Remembering Forgotten Veterans on Veteran’s Day: A Historic Look at Suicide in the Military

Posted: November 10, 2015 by extremehistory in Uncategorized
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By John W. Olsen

You’re not alone.

This coming Wednesday marks the 61st occurrence of Veteran’s Day since it became a Federal Holiday in 1954.  For many years men and women have fought for and died for our country and unfortunately a certain portion of them died by their own hand:  Suicide.

Suicide has been associated with mental illness and something being wrong with a person and is inaccurate.  A great analogy I found on Suicide.org is that if you have a broken limb, you go to the doctor or the Emergency Room and get it taken care of.  Why is it not the same for suicide and why is there so much difficulty to talk about?  Check out the following link to find out more about the stigma of suicide. http://www.suicide.org/stigma-and-suicide.html This stigma is very slowly being changed and it is still a difficult battle.

When I went online to find out the number of veterans who commit suicide it is hard to find a definitive answer.  One thing is certain, though, the difference between military and civilian rates of suicide are staggering.  Going to VA.gov and looking at the 2012 Suicide report http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2427 and at the bottom of the page is a link to the full 59 page report.  This data, of course, is not complete as there are states that haven’t released information, information released does not acknowledge the event was a suicide, or it does acknowledge the individual was a veteran.  This information is broken down into many different categories.

In January of this year the LA Times ran an article about a study that “…included all 1,282,074 veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period” and “It tracked the veterans after service until the end of the 2009, finding a total of 1,868 suicides.  That equates to an annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans, or roughly 50% higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics” http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-veteran-suicide-20150115-story.html.  In June of this year the LA Times ran another article this time focusing on female veterans and found “Female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women” http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-female-veteran-suicide-20150608-story.html

Trying to find actual information on veteran suicides in a historical context is difficult at best.  There are some websites that list that approximately 58,000 veterans died during Vietnam and some say that the suicides resulting from that conflict are anywhere between 9,000 – 100,000.

World War II veteran suicide rates after the war didn’t even seem to be on the radar until more recently.  According to a spokeswoman for the VA the idea of mental health, especially PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), wasn’t something that was discussed or even comprehended back then and you definitely couldn’t have gotten care for this at the VA.  It was suggested that many veterans self-medicated with drinking and other outlets.  https://www.baycitizen.org/news/veterans/suicide-rates-soar-among-wwii-vets/

Today the VA and other mental health providers understand the extreme pressures members of the armed forces have had to endure and symptoms of which don’t necessarily appear immediately.  It is true that we do have more resources and hotlines available for veterans and yet we still have men and women taking their own lives.  We still have a ways to go.

Thank you to all the veterans for your service, your patriotism, and your sacrifice.  We would not be here without you.

Perhaps the most courageous act a veteran who is considering suicide can do is to ask for help.  Below is a list of resources for veterans and civilians.

 

Veterans:

http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/

Everyone:

1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

http://www.suicide.org/index.html

Bozeman:

586-3333 – Help line

 

John W. Olson

USN 1989 – 1992

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Comments
  1. Michael Alexander Sirr M.D. says:

    I’m an Emergency Physician. I’ve worked at the VA. There are multiple reasons for increased suicides in veterans. There are no blue collar jobs for them, no living wage, and the useless nature of US wars leaves them with soul injuries. They know, killing for nothing is not heroic. Waving a flag doesn’t help.

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