Increasingly, we are getting a more complete picture of the tragedy that is suicides among active and retired service members. Yet, there is still much we don't know.
Last month the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a comprehensive report on suicide in the military. The research followed 151,560 service members from all branches, sampling from 2001, 2004, and 2007. Of the 151,560 participants, 83 committed suicide. Interestingly, those who had not deployed (roughly half of the sample population) made up the majority, 57.8%, of suicides. As the study points out, "those deployed to the current operations with or without combat were not significantly more likely to have a suicide death than those who did not deploy."
The data in this study mirrors the most recent Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER) of 2011. In it, of the confirmed suicides for 2011, 54 percent did not have a deployment history.
Importantly this study points out that "risk factors associated with suicide in this military population are consistent with civilian populations." Some of these risk factors include male gender, mental disorders, and heavy, binge drinking. These risk factors are already associated with the civilian population. Risk factors not associated with the civilian population include combat occupational specialty, and deployments before 2001.
The situation has only gotten worse since this study concluded at the end of 2008. When it comes to suicide prevention, we have a long way to go. Better screening for and treatment of mental health disorders can help ensure that those who are facing these issues are getting the treatment they need. Veterans who participated in IAVA's annual member survey said that they are not getting the behavioral health care that they need.
While the JAMA study, and the DoDSER, only sampled Active, Guard and Reserve personnel, a recent Department of Veterans of Affairs study estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Having this level of data for the veteran population could help to develop informed programs and give us greater insight into this growing issue. While not to discredit this study, it is lacking in it's scope. A comprehensive study of veteran suicide of all generations could give us much greater insight into this growing problem.
Ultimately, however, this is an issue about much more then just numbers and statistics. As a veteran myself it's about my fellow veterans of all generations who are losing their personal battles. It's about the people we've served with who didn't die in combat, but rather by their own hands.
In January of 2011 a dear friend of mine, who I served with in Iraq, committed suicide. It was an intense shock and it is his memory, and the memory of others who have lost their lives, that has driven my work over the last 2 and a half years. Every day we lose 22 friends, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers to suicide. This is unacceptable.
IAVA encourages veterans who believe they need help to seek it through the Department of Veterans Affairs, a local Vet Center, Give and Hour, or local mental health services. And if you are a veteran, or if you know a veteran, who is in crisis you should call the Veteran Crisis Line immediately at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
Preventing suicides among active service members and veterans must be a national priority. We need to be there for those who put on a uniform to protect our country.
This post is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. Every weekday in September, we'll feature a different blog post by someone who is either an expert in the field, who has been affected by a suicide, or who has contemplated suicide. To see all the posts in the series, as well as original reporting, audio and video, click here.
If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please, if you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans, 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.