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Post Combat Suicide Rate Rising

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

An extremely disturbing outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the rising toll of suicide among soldiers both during active duty and after discharge from military service. This fact was reported in the New York Times on August 2, 2009. What it signifies is the need for mental health services for many of our combat veterans after they return home from the war. The fact is that the military has been slow to recognize the problem and that partially accounts for rising tragedy among our war veterans.

It is thought that such factors as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), heavy alcohol consumption, depression, grief over the loss of buddies, survivor guilt, financial problems faced at home and serious marriage problems often resulting in divorce, all conspire to cause suicide.

What is remarkable about the dimensions of this tragedy is that there are still some who insist that PTSD is phony because it is merely an attempt on the part of many veterans to receive undeserved disability payments from the U.S.Military. Of course there always have been a few who attempt to take advantage of the system and whose claims of PTSD are false. However, suicide seems to be a rather odd way to go about claiming disability since death brings the entire issue to an abrupt close.

To get an idea of the extent of the problem of suicide in the military, her is a quote from the Times article of August 2, 2009:

"The number of suicides reported by the Army has risen to the highest level since record-keeping began three decades ago. Last year, there were 192 among active-duty soldiers and soldiers on inactive reserve status, twice as many as in 2003, when the war began. (Five more suspected suicides are still being investigated.) This year’s figure is likely to be even higher: from January to mid-July, 129 suicides were confirmed or suspected, more than the number of American soldiers who died in combat during the same period."

According to the article, veterans groups and the military are beginning to take the problem seriously and set up psychiatric services for men and women either on active duty or discharged who have shown any psychiatric symptoms.

Research into the causes of suicide among our troops point to the fact that, among the psychological problems already sited, also state that many of the suicidal men and women had emotional problems before they entered the service.

For example, among the veterans I have interviewed, all had histories of child abuse, ADHD, depression and divorce and remarriage, before entering the service. Although all of these people served their country well combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they all entered civilian life with extreme depression, PTSD and deep marital difficulties.

In addition, among the same veterans I have interviewed, all were receiving mental health services from the Veterans Administration. The problem is that the services are few and far between. Many of these individuals had to wait a month before there next appointment with their VA psychiatrist or psychologist. These are people in need of and wanting more in the way of mental health services.

To reiterate, I will admit that there are always a few people who attempt to take advantage of the system by falsely claiming PTSD and disability when they have no such need. Yet, the very solid and sobering statistics about suicide points to the fact that we should err on the side of caution and on the side of providing the needed psychiatric and psychological services to help stop this tragedy from occurring.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD




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