Reservist vets commit most suicides
- From: Harry Hope <rivrvu@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2008 11:52:46 -0500
Feb 12, 2008
Study: Reservist vets commit most suicides
By Kimberly Hefling - The Associated Press
National Guard and Reserve troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan
comprise more than half the veterans who committed suicide after
returning home from those combat zones, according to new government
data obtained by The Associated Press.
A Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of continuing research of
deaths among veterans of both wars found that Guard or Reserve members
were 53 percent of the veteran suicides from 2001, when the war in
Afghanistan began, through the end of 2005.
The research, conducted by the agency?s Office of Environmental
Epidemiology, provides the first demographic look at suicides among
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who left the military ? a situation that
veterans and mental health advocates worry might worsen as the wars
Military leaders have leaned heavily on Guard and Reserve troops in
At certain times in 2005, members of the Guard and Reserve made up
nearly half of the troops fighting in Iraq.
Overall, they were almost 28 percent of all U.S. military forces
deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan or in support of the operations,
according to data from the Defense Department through the end of 2007.
Many Guard and Reserve members have done multiple tours that kept them
away from home for 18 months.
When they returned home, some who live far from military installations
or VA facilities have met with difficulty getting access to mental
health counseling or treatment, activists have said.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of
America, said the study?s findings reinforce the argument that Guard
and Reserve troops need more help as they transition back into the
The military?s effort to re-screen reservists for mental and physical
problems three months after they return home is a positive step,
Rieckhoff said, but a more long-term comprehensive approach is needed
to help the troops ? particularly in their first six months at home.
?National Guardsmen and reservists are literally in Baghdad in one
week and in Brooklyn the next, and that transition is incredibly
tough,? Rieckhoff said.
VA has said there does not appear to be an epidemic of suicide among
returning veterans, and suicide among the Iraq and Afghanistan
veterans is comparable to the same demographic group in the general
However, an escalating suicide rate in the Army, as well as
high-profile suicides such as the death of Joshua Omvig, an Iowa
reservist who shot himself in front of his mother in December 2005
after an 11-month tour in Iraq, have alarmed some members of Congress
and mental health advocates.
In November, President Bush signed the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention
bill, which directed VA to improve its mental health training for
staff and do a better job of screening and treating veterans.
According to VA?s research, 144 veterans committed suicide from Oct.
7, 2001 ? the start of the war in Afghanistan ? through the end of
Of those, 35 veterans, or 24 percent, served in the reserves and 41,
or 29 percent, had served in the National Guard.
Sixty-eight ? 47 percent ? had been active-duty troops.
Statistics from 2006 and 2007 were not yet available, VA said, because
the study was based in part on data from the National Death Index,
which is still being compiled.
Among the total population of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have
been discharged from the military, nearly half are formerly active
duty and a little more than half were in the Guard and reserves,
according to VA.
Among those studied, more than half of the veterans who committed
suicide were ages 20 to 29.
Nearly three-quarters used firearms to take their lives.
Nearly 82 percent were white.
About one in five was seen at least once at a VA facility.
Last year, the VA started a suicide hot line.
VA and the military have also made other improvements in suicide
prevention care, such as hiring more counselors and increasing mental
?The challenge is getting people to come to us before they commit
suicide, knowing they can come and get help and knowing they have
access to those resources,? said Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman.
The VA study does not include those who committed suicide in the war
zones or those who remained in the military after returning home from
Last year, the Army said its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per
100,000 troops, the highest level in 26 years of record-keeping.
The Army said recently that as many as 121 soldiers committed suicide
If all are confirmed, the number would be more than double the total
reported in 2001.
Some mental health advocates have complained that there is no
comprehensive tracking in one place of suicide among those who served
in the wars, whether they were still in the military or discharged.
In October, AP reported that preliminary research from VA had found
that from the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, until
the end of 2005, 283 troops who served in the wars who had been
discharged from the military had committed suicide.
VA later said the number was reduced to 144 because some of the
veterans counted were active duty and not discharged when they
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