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New Year’s Resolution, cut the military and veterans suicide rate

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Today, the Army released the suicide data for the month of November 2013. The Army reports there were 24 suicides in November: 14 suicides among active-duty soldiers, and 10 suicides among reserve component soldiers (6 Army National Guard and 4 Army Reserve).

So far in 2013, 278 members of the United States Army have committed suicide: 139 active duty soldiers and 139 members of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

In 2012, 324 members of the Army committed suicide. So the number of suicides in the Army is down, but that only tells half the story.

There are several reasons for the decline in the Army’s suicide rate. All of the American combat troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, so there are fewer troops facing the prospect of going back into combat again.

Also, thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have also been discharged, and the Pentagon doesn’t keep track of how many combat veterans commit suicide after discharge.

These combat veterans are trying to adjust to civilian life as they deal with their memories of the war and according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), “Reports on veterans suicides, however, remain less available.”

That’s because no one organization is responsible for gathering data on combat veterans nationwide. The VA doesn’t track the suicide rate among veterans any more than it tracks the unemployment rate or the divorce rate among veterans.

That task is left to the fifty States, and the data is scattered across the country in a gazillion different formats. That’s where BackHomeNews21 comes in.

“Back Home: The Enduring Battles Facing Post-9/11 Veterans” is the 2013 project of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multimedia, investigative reporting project produced by the nation’s top journalism students.

“The 2013 project on post-9/11 veterans was produced by 26 students from 12 universities working under the direction of a team of editors led by Jacquee Petchel, executive editor of News21 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.”

The project staff gathered the suicide data from all 50 States from 2005 through 2011, and their analysis of the date revealed the stark reality of the situation for veterans.

“Veterans commit suicide at double and sometimes triple the rates of civilian suicides, with the rates varying from state to state. The veteran suicide rate has grown annually at more than double the percentage of the civilian rate.”

Most States have a civilian suicide rate that is at or below 20 suicides per 100,000 population. There are seven States with a civilian suicide rate of less than 10 suicides per 100,000 population.

However, the data shows that the suicide rate among veterans is radically higher.

  • There are six States where the suicide rate among veterans is at 50 or more suicides per 100,000 population;
  • There are three States where the veterans suicide rate that is at 40 or more suicides per 100,000 population;
  • There are twenty-two States where the veterans suicide rate that is at 30 or more suicides per 100,000 population;
  • There are only four States where the suicide rate among veterans is at or below 20 suicides per 100,000 population.

Veteran’s organizations are aware of the problem and have taken steps to make their members aware of the situation.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) promotes the concept of A Community of Support.

The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) has testified before Congress about the problem, and VVA includes articles about suicide prevention in their National publication, The Veteran.

Unfortunately, most civilians don’t want to know about it. From wives and children to friends and neighbors, it’s too upsetting. Too often, they want the veteran to deal with it in private. And that leads to disaster.

According to the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General, PTSD is estimated to have affected almost 130,000 troops since 2001, and according to the National Center for PTSD, there is a definite relationship between PTSD and suicide.

But, with veteran’s suicides accounting for almost one in five suicide attempts in the entire country, it’s going to take more than veteran’s organizations to solve the problem. We are all going to have to anything we can.

If one of your friends, someone in your family, or one of your neighbors is a combat veteran, reach out to them. Make contact somehow, just to let them know you care.

For veterans with PTSD, families often fall apart; the strain is just too great, marriages end, children move away, and often times the veteran is totally isolated during the holiday season, the worst time of year to be alone.

So make a New Year’s resolution to reach out and touch a veteran. Pick up the phone and call. Get together, go out to dinner; stop by to say hello, let’s go out for lunch.

It may be the kindest thing you’ve ever done.

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