Dean, College of Social and Behavioral Science, Co-Founder and Scientific Director, National Center for Veterans Studies, Professor of Psychology, M. David Rudd has given me an in-depth Q & A about many soldiers fighting the demons from within. The trauma of war continues to haunt many, it creates and modifies a person to be silent and detached.
In recent reports military suicides have become the biggest treat then combat, every 60 minutes a soldier takes his or her life. Twenty two veterans commit suicide each day, although efforts have been made to address the problem it is still a rapidly growing one.
Last month, The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to examine the state of America's Mental Health System in general and to address the aggressive need for awareness and access to services.
According to the Department of Defense the year 2012 was the highest amount of suicides recorded. As Mr. Rudd explains his lack of optimism and the disintegration that soldiers face trying to meet challenges towards finding help in an effort to adequately transition back to family life and community.
In general my lack of optimism is a function of the contextual landscape likely to unfold as we simultaneously draw-down in Afghanistan and deal with the profound need to reduce federal spending. The most likely scenario is significant reductions in (DoD) Department of Defense spending, with the net outcome being a reduction in soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
This comes at a time when military personnel face the challenge of reintegrating into families and communities after more than a decade of war. As the data have demonstrated over the last several years, it's a huge challenge, particularly when families are strained. Couple that with soldiers being discharged at higher rates. The potential scenario is a disintegration of family support at the same time many war fighters lose their warrior identity. That's a lot to deal with, particularly if we don't have adequate transition programs in place.
This time next year Obama announces in his state of the union speech that 34,000 troops from Afghanistan will be returning home, reducing the presence of U.S. forces in the region by half.
Professor of Psychology, M. David Rudd
Q: would you agree or disagree that many veterans coming back from Iraq & Afghan find themselves falling into a series of conditions that lead to suicides and can you name a few?
A: The available data would suggest that is indeed the case. In terms of those with combat experience, the most common problems are untreated or undertreated PTSD, depression and substance abuse, coupled with a host of reintegration stressors revolving around family and marriage. As we start the drawdown of troops secondary to reduced federal spending there will be increasing numbers facing a potential loss of identity as they are forced to separate from the military. The lack of transitional services compounds the problem.
For many, the emergence of mental health problems is met with resistance and hesitation to pursue care. When untreated it’s not unusual for mental health issues to reveal themselves as disciplinary and legal problems, with the net outcome a dramatic increase in stress and suicide risk.
Q: What is your feelings about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stating statement that there is one dead soldier a day every 80 min., I also heard in recent reports that it 60min?
A: It’s simply tragic and unnecessary. Many of those suffering could be effectively treated, but we have to do a better job of both getting people into care and then keeping them there. The most recent active duty suicide numbers reveal that half of those that died by suicide had received mental health care. We have to find a way to keep people in treatment, improve access, eliminate barriers, and battle stigma.
Q: There is a 3 million dollar research project that aims at treating suicidal thoughts with nasal spay, do you have any comments on this? Since you deal with physiological aspect is there anything not mentioned about the alarming rate in suicidal thoughts in these soldiers?
A : Given that there are prominent biological aspects to mental illness, this study offers and interesting alternative. The nasal spray uses a nanoparticle delivery system to send thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) into the body and ultimately across the blood-brain barrier. In other studies TRH has been found to offer potential to prevent suicide, depression, and bipolar disorder but an effective and efficient delivery system has not been identified (i.e. a spinal tap has been the method).
Q: There is a large amount of unmonitored consumption of prescription drug use, such as antidepressant, What is your feeling on this?
A: This is a very real problem that can be fixed. The data is somewhat unclear at this point, but anecdotal evidence abounds in these tragic cases involving multiple drugs from multiple providers with little or no oversight. I can and should be fixed. Procedural changes can be put in place to start the process.