View Full Version : U.S. Veterans Twice As Likely As Civilians To Commit Suicide: Study

06-12-2007, 03:51 PM
US veterans twice as likely as civilians to commit suicide: study


Published: Monday June 11, 2007

US veterans are twice as likely as civilians to commit suicide, according to a study released Monday, which researchers said underscores the need for mental health care for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most at risk were disabled male veterans, or those who suffered emotional or psychological trauma during their service.

Former combatants who were white, older and better-educated also were more likely to take their own lives, according to the study which appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

More often than not, firearms were used in the suicides, the study found.

All told, researchers reviewed data on nearly 321,000 men, about a third of whom were combat veterans who served between 1917 and 1994 -- a period encompassing two world wars, the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War.

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency that provides health care service to Americans who have served in the armed forces, found the results "disturbing" and "surprising," according to one of the paper's authors.

The researchers drew on data from the US National Health Interview Surveys 1986-94 and the National Death Index, a central computerized index of death record information on file in the vital statistics offices of each US state.

The study did not include data on suicide levels in the latest crop of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the implications for this group are worrying, the authors said.

They pointed to the disturbing levels of post-traumatic stress disorder seen among Iraq vets, and the large number of disabled or wounded survivors returning from that conflict -- a feature which distinguishes it from earlier wars, and which can be explained in part by improvements in battlefield medical treatment.

Mark Kaplan, a professor of community health at Portland State University and the lead author on the study, said soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan should be carefully monitored long-term for any signs that they were thinking of harming themselves.

"Front-line community doctors need to scrutinize veterans for signs of suicidal behavior or thoughts and, if needed, they should intervene to make sure these patients do not have access to firearms," he said.

He added that in general "there is inadequate mental health screening, and many of the doctors outside the VA system are not trained to deal with these sorts of problems and don't have the time to treat them."