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Before the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs CommitteeRegarding Suicide Among America’s Military Personnel and Veterans

December 12, 2007

The subject of suicide is extremely difficult to discuss.  It is a topic that most of us would prefer to avoid.  Accurate statistics on deaths by suicide are not readily available because many are not reported or are misreported for insurance reasons as well as the desire of local officials to avoid the “stigma” of suicide in a family. Many of us, as veterans of the Vietnam War and as comrades and caregivers to our brother and sister veterans, have known someone who has committed suicide and others who have attempted to take their life.  Unfortunately I have personally known many Vietnam veterans who were overtaken by despair induced by their deep and intractable neuron-psychiatric wounds from the war.

But as uncomfortable as this subject may be to discuss, it must be confronted. It is a very real public health concern in our military and veteran communities. A 12-year study published in the June 2007 issue of the journal Epidemiology and Health clearly demonstrates that the risk of suicide among male U.S. veterans is more than two times greater than that of the general population after adjusting for a host of potentially compounding factors, including age, time of service, and health status.  A report released this past May by the VA Inspector General noted that “veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at increased risk for suicide because not all VA clinics have 24-hour mental care available . . . and many lack properly trained workers.”

Media reports of suicide deaths and suicide attempts among active duty OEF and OIF soldiers and veterans began to surface back in 2003 after a spate of suicides in Iraq during the first months of the war.  Since then, both the military and the VA have stumbled and fumbled in their attempts to answer questions about the severity of this malady.  For example, while all the military services maintain suicide prevention programs, the Army in its August 2007 Army Suicide Event Report acknowledged that soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The report noted “a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort.”  The report added that there also ''was limited evidence to support the view that multiple deployments are a risk factor for suicide behaviors.''  It might be noted here that this report which was released only after a FOIA request. 

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