Sundvall 1Kristin SundvallMrs. LesterAdvanced Composition11 October 2011 Veteran Suicide It has been estimated that twenty percent of veterans suffer from psychological healthcomplications. Each year, approximately 1600 veterans commit suicide as a result of untreatedmental disorders (Bossarte et al). The military has had complications with veteran suicide since itwas established. This issue has had a huge impact on military life and the lives of those whohave lost beloved soldiers to suicide. Military researchers and psychologists have tried and failedto reduce the rate at which veterans take their own lives. Without a doubt, veteran suicide is oneof the most significant problems in the military. Veteran suicide is best defined as a current or former soldier ending her own life for anynumber of reasons that can vary widely. One reason veteran suicide has such a high rate isuntreated mental illnesses. Studies show that one in five veterans has some form of a mentaldisease. These psychological conditions include depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders (United States. Cong.). Sadly, only half of all veterans withmental illnesses seek professional help. According to Rand researcher Terri Tanielian, unlesstroops receive proper care, there will be long-term consequences for them and the nation(Finding Dulcinea Staff). Another reason there is such a high rate of veteran suicide is thatveterans have very different experiences from civilians. Some experiences that are unique toveterans include battle guilt and fatigue, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Traumatic BrainInjuries. Veterans are the only ones who truly know the first-hand horrors or war, and these
Sundvall 2horrors can be extremely traumatic. One of the main unique factors that contributes to veteransuicide is access to lethal means. Unlike civilians, soldiers are constantly around weapons andchemicals that can be used to commit suicide (United States. Cong.). Another reason the rate ofveteran suicide is so high is because of weak social support structures (United States.Department of Veterans Affairs). When soldiers are at war, they only have each other. Theirfriends and family are not there to support them and guide them through their struggles. Theyhave to keep each other sound and look out for themselves without community support. Whenthey can not get help from loved ones, they may feel that suicide is the only way out. Inconclusion, veteran suicide is definitely a huge problem in the military. There are many factorsthat can cause veteran suicide, and it has a huge impact on military life and the country. Veteran suicide has a huge impact on America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.First, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has to fund studies regarding suicide preventionstrategies. This funding drains the VA’s money. The Department does not have the money tocreate more facilities to prevent veteran suicide. The VA’s response to suicidal veterans is slowand its facilities are inadequate to treat veterans who need mental help. As a result, it is currentlybeing sued, taking away more of its funds (“More Excuses and Delays”). Another effect thisissue has on America is an attempt to change military culture. Military culture makes it hard forsoldiers to come forward with their mental health problems and seek help. The Secretary ofDefense, Robert Gates, has made it very clear that military culture needs to change. The militaryhas had the same static culture since it was established. Changing it would have to happen overan extended period of time, and ultimately may not happen at all (Katz). Yet another effectveteran suicide has had on the country is that it drains money from states. For example, the stateof Montana has implemented its own suicide prevention strategy in attempt to reduce the rate of
Sundvall 3suicide in veterans. Each Montana National Guard member who returns home from combat isrequired to go through a mental health screening. The screenings are intended to detect mentalhealth problems and to direct veterans to the best treatment facilities. The state of Montana has topay for these screenings and the specialists who conduct them. If other states decide to followMontana’s example, they will surely run into the same financial issues (Katz). Undoubtedly, thehigh rate of veteran suicide has had a huge effect on the country. Luckily, there are programs andstrategies in place to solve this issue. Military researchers and psychologists have worked hard to develop strategies forsuicide prevention. One effective strategy is restricting access to lethal means such as certaindrugs like acetaminophen and, especially, firearms. A study was conducted in Washington, D.C.,to determine whether or not firearm restrictions had any effect on the suicide rate. A new lawprohibited the possession of unregistered firearms and the possession of firearms by minors. Thefirearms limit resulted in a significant decrease in the rate of suicide. The military has becomefamiliar with this study and has taken its own action to limit access to firearms by militarypersonnel. A soldier can not access firearms unless they are issued to her. Also, unissuedfirearms are kept under close surveillance (United States. Department of Veterans Affairs). Asecond strategy that has decreased veteran suicide rates is the veteran suicide hotline. The suicidehotline consists of trained professional counselors who specialize in suicide prevention. Over onethird of the counselors are veterans themselves. The suicide hotline receives about 250 callsevery day from troubled veterans. It has reportedly terminated 1,200 suicides in progress everyyear since it was established (Katz). Yet another veteran suicide prevention strategy that hasworked is inpatient residential therapy. A study of 3,733 veterans was conducted to determinewhether or not inpatient therapy worked better than outpatient therapy. The study showed that
Sundvall 4patients who received residential therapy had a lower chance of re-attempting suicide than thosewho participated only in outpatient programs. When a patient is in a residential treatment center,she is closely monitored and has access to psychological help at all times. All lethal means areremoved from the facility and she is given a strong support group (United States. Department ofVeterans Affairs). All in all, there are some wonderful suicide prevention programs available toveterans that have saved many troubled troops. However, not all suicide prevention strategieshave been successful. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has implemented substantial preventionprograms, there are some programs that have failed. One strategy that failed was a 2008 attemptto decrease the rate of suicide using advertisements on the buses and subways in Washington,D.C. depicting actor Gary Sinise encouraging veterans to seek help for mental health disorders.This method failed. Over half of veterans simply do not want to come forward with their mentaldisorders (Katz). A second method that has failed is outpatient therapy. According to a studyfrom the Department of Veterans Affairs, outpatient care had little effect on the rate of veteransuicide. The study also showed that outpatient therapy participants had a higher change ofattempting suicide a second time after their counseling program ended. When a soldier’s therapyis limited to an outpatient program, she does not get to spend adequate time with therapists. Shewill not be monitored as closely as she would in inpatient therapy (United States. Department ofVeterans Affairs). Yet another suicide prevention strategy that has failed is stress debriefings.After combat or traumatic situations, soldiers receive stress debriefings in an attempt to eliminatethe threat of mental disorders. They are briefed on what to do if they think they might have somekind of mental health defect and how to mentally prepare for future combat. This method isineffective because once a traumatic event has occurred, a simple debriefing is not enough to
Sundvall 5treat it. The soldier must receive professional psychiatric help before partaking in suicidalbehavior. Essentially, the traumatic events soldiers go through are stronger than the debriefingsthey receive after combat (Katz). In conclusion, there are several suicide prevention programsthat are ineffective for soldiers, creating a grim outlook for this issue. The future of veteran suicide rates looks bleak. One reason the future of this issue is sogrim is that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide adequate care for veterans. TheVA is currently undergoing a lawsuit by two non-profit organizations, Veterans United for Truthand Veterans for Common Sense. These two groups accused the VA of “uncheckedincompetence and unconscionable delays in caring for veterans with mental health problems”(“More Excuses and Delays”). The Department of Veterans Affairs does not adequately providesuicide prevention officers of respond to suicidal veterans quickly enough to prevent suicide. Thecourt has agreed that systematic changes need to be made to the VA regarding its facilities andthe speed at which it responds (“More Excuses and Delays”). Another reason this issue has agrim outlook is that the VA has not yet found an effective way to encourage more soldiers toseek help for mental health disorders. Studies show that about twenty percent of Americanveterans have mental health problems. However, only half of them have sought treatment (Katz).Military culture can make it embarrassing for a soldier to get help. Soldiers are held to a highstandard and are expected to be paramount at everything they do. Showing emotion andadmitting mental health problems is contrary to what is expected of them (Finding DulcineaStaff). One more reason this issue’s future looks bleak is because there is still much to learnabout veteran suicide. Although the identification and care of veterans at risk for suicide remainsof utmost importance, there are only limited means of identifying emerging risk populations andthe changes in those populations. More studies need to be conducted to determine the best way to
Sundvall 6treat suicidal veterans. Also, the VA needs better means of identifying risk factors for suicideand getting veterans the help they need (Bossarte et al). To conclude, there are many factors thatmake the outlook for this issue very grim, and America will keep losing its beloved protectorsuntil the Department of Veterans Affairs can produce a solution that will significantly decreasethe rate of veteran suicide. Overall, a career in the military is definitely not the best choice. There is a considerablyhigh rate of psychiatric disorders and suicide in the military. There are few actions veterans cantake to prevent a mental illness. Military experiences are extremely different from those in thecivilian world. Military personnel go through traumatic and stressful events every day. Trauma,injuries, and guilt lead to psychiatric disorders in at least twenty percent of America’s veterans.The treatment provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs is inadequate to help a veteranwho is mentally suffering. The VA does not respond quickly enough to the cries of sufferingveterans, so it is often too late to help them before they take their own lives. The grim outlook ofthis issue is enough to discourage a person from choosing a career in the military. There is littlehope now that the rate of veteran suicide will ever decrease. Until the Department of VeteransAffairs can find a way to decrease the rate of veteran suicide, military careers will continue to berisky and uncertain choices.
Sundvall 7 Works CitedBossarte, Robert, Cynthia Claassen, and Kerry Knox. “Evaluating Evidence of Risk for Suicide Among Veterans.” Military Medicine 175.10 (2010): 703-704. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://proxygsu- sche.galileo.usg.edu/?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=5 4353616&site=ehost-live>.Finding Dulcinea Staff. “New Data Shows Alarming Rates of Military Mental Health Problems.” Editorial. Finding Dulcinea. Dulcinea Media, Inc., 18 Apr. 2008. Web. 11 Sept. 2011. <http://www.findingdulcinea.com///April-08/Data-Shows-Alarming-Rates-of-Military- Mental-Health-Problems.html>.Katz, Josh. “Suicide Hotline Hearing from Thousands of Troubled Vets.” Editorial. Finding Dulcinea. Dulcinea Media, Inc., 28 July 2008. Web. 11 Sept. 2011. <http://www.findingdulcinea.com////Hotline-Hearing-from-Thousands-of-Troubled- Vets.html>.- - -. “VA Looks to Ads to Help Suicidal Veterans.” Editorial. Finding Dulciena. Dulcinea Media, Inc., 18 July 2008. Web. 11 Sept. 2011. <http://www.findingdulcinea.com// Americas//Looks-to-Ads-to-Help-Suicidal-Veterans.html>.“More Excuses and Delays From the V.A.: It is battling a court order to fix its mental health system.” The New York Times 22 Aug. 2011: A18. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 7 Sept. 2011. <http://ic.galegroup.com//// NewsDetailsWindow?displayGroupName=News&disableHighlighting=false&prodId=O VIC&action=e&windowstate=normal&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CA264898497& mode=view&userGroupName=cant48040&jsid=f529d9b18b2eed7f3659cd9713cba020>.
Sundvall 8United States. Cong. House and Senate. Suicide Prevention Among Veterans. By Ramya Sundararaman, Sidath Panangala, and Sarah Lister. N.p.: n.p., 2008. Federation of American Scientists. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://www.fas.org////.pdf>.- - -. Department of Veterans Affairs. Strategies for Suicide Prevention in Veterans. By Paul Shekelle, Steven Bagley, and Brett Munjas. Los Angeles: n.p., 2009. HSR&D. Web. 11 Sept. 2011. <http://www.hsrd.research.va.gov///Prevention-2009.pdf>.