Veterans and Suicide

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The results of a study involving 800,000 depressed veterans who were in the VA health care system from 1999 to 2004 challenges the assumption that individuals with PTSD or other service disorders are more likely to kill themselves. The study also found that younger men are at a higher risk for suicide than previously thought. It is generally known that suicide rates are higher for veterans than among the general population. With the number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including many individuals with behavioral health problems, like PTSD as well as individuals with significant disabilities related to war injuries, the need to creating more resources to identify and treat those individuals at risk for suicide becomes very important.

Dr. Kara Zivin, the lead author of the study, contends that the assumption that the risk for suicide is greater for a certain type or group of patients is misleading. Dr. Zivin reported that improving the assessment of suicidal risk in depressed individuals is the more relevant approach. As to the relationship of suicide to PTSD, the study indicates that those with PTSD may be at a lower risk due to contacts they have with mental health resources. The other risk factors of substance abuse and recent psychiatric hospitalizations were considered important indicators for suicide risk.

It is interesting that this study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, comes at a time when much attention is being focused on the needs of veterans and the state of affairs at military hospitals and in the VA system. This weekend, in Washington, brain injury professionals are meeting to address the needs of the returning veterans and to put forth a blueprint for the needs of these individuals. We cannot be swayed by the recently released study which may minimize suicide risk even though it stresses the need for improved assessment services. We have a group of returning veterans, many of whom, have mental health and rehabilitation needs which are yet to be identified and addressed. The long term needs of these individuals can only be considered if we start by identifying the injuries and conditions which result from their wartime experiences.

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