By Debbie Gregory.
Almost one in five U.S. suicides is a Veteran. According to one survey, approximately 49,000 Vets took their own lives between 2005 and 2011. An estimated 22 Veterans die by suicide each day. A 2012 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that in just 2009 alone, 98 men and women from post-9/11 wars took their own lives. That number is a major increase from an earlier report by the same agency that claims that between 2002 and 2005, 144 Veterans of post-9/11 wars committed suicide. In 2012, the number of active duty military deaths by suicide surpassed combat deaths in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. This is an epidemic that is ravaging the Veteran community.
A major contributing factor to the frequency of Veteran suicides can be traced back to training. Conditioning a person to maintain constant vigilance may keep a service member alive in a war zone, but can add the already difficult periods of readjustment that Veterans must face when they ultimately return to civilian life. Veterans transitioning into civilian life are already prone to experience struggles with: a lack of concentration, aggressive behavior, a loss of self-worth, and increased uses of drugs, alcohol & tobacco. Combat Veterans are at an even higher risk to experience extra reactions to their stress including: sadness, hopelessness, feelings of abandonment & rejection, and nightmares which also lead to sleeplessness. And Veterans who have suffered from a concussion or other head trauma are at an even greater risk to experience suicidal thoughts.
In 2007, Congress passed the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act. The law, which was named for an Iraq war Veteran who committed suicide in 2005, has required the Department of Veterans Affairs to increase suicide prevention measures in order to reduce the frequency of suicides among Veterans. The increased measures by the VA include: Providing more mental health resources, educating the Veteran community and the public about suicide risk factors and tracking Veteran suicides from state to state. These extra measures have caused the VA’s budget to grow by almost 40% due to the necessity of providing 1,600 more mental healthcare staff that are trained in suicide prevention techniques, factoring mental health risks, and providing referrals to treatment programs and suicide prevention counselors at VA medical centers, on the Vet’s request.
Another provision of the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act is that the VA now provides the Veterans Crisis Line. The toll-free, national phone line and web page offers Veterans troubled by suicidal thoughts the chance to have phone conversations and instant message chats with trained VA representatives 24/7. The web page also offers a self-check quiz. This quiz offers a safe way to reach those Veterans who are concerned about their mental health, but not are afraid of disclosing their status. The self-check quiz is completely confidential. Veterans will NOT need to provide their name, email, nor any other identifying information. A VA representative will respond your quiz, via reference code, in approximately 10-15 minutes.
Veterans with suicidal thoughts are urged to contact the Veterans Crisis Line online or by calling 800-273-8255.