Martin C. Evans

Young vets’ suicides surge

In veterans on January 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

Eighteen veterans kill themselves every day.

Suicides among veterans under 30 years old jumped by 26 percent in a two-year period.

One in five suicides in America claim the life of a veteran.

A 2008 exhibit in Kansas City used 34 pairs of white boots to depict Missouri's Iraq/Afghanistan vet suicides

These alarming facts were revealed Monday by former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, Secretarty of the Department of Veterans Affairs, at a suicide prevention conference in Washington.

Shinseki spoke at the 2nd Annual DoD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference, which is geared toward finding out why there are so many military-related suicide deaths what can be done to prevent them.

“As I’ve often asked, mostly of myself, but also of others from time to time, why do we know so much about suicides but so little about how to prevent them?” Shinseki asked.

Health professionals say the stress of multiple tours of duty and the increasing reliance on National Guard troops mostly unaccustomed to year-long deployments away from home are leaving many soldiers psychologically devastated. Last year, a Rand Corporation report said one in five Iraq or Afghanistan veterans suffered from post traumatic stress disorder or major depression.

Officials at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Northport claim there have been relatively few suicides among its clinical patients.

Northport’s chief of psychiatry, Dr. Charlene Thomesen, said there were no suicides during fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30, four in fiscal 2008 and three in fiscal 2007.

But her figures reflect only deaths confirmed as suicides and reported by family members to Northport officials, making it likely that other suicides were never recorded in the medical center’s statistics.

Suicides appear to be rising among active duty soldiers as well. There were 147 reported suicides in the Army from January through November last year, compared to 127 in the same period of 2008, according to the DOD.

In the DOD report, released last month, reported suicides among non-active duty reserve soldiers thorough November 2009 had also far eclipsed the total suicides in all of 2008 – 71 for the first 11 months of 2009 versus 50 for the 12 months of 2008.

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