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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More than 50% of Army's 948 Suicide Attempts in 2006 Sought Help First

The Hartford Courant recently ran a piece, "Suicides - A Treatment Issue," by Lisa Chedekel (who has done incredible reporting on combat PTSD issues). Noteworthy information.

From the Courant piece (via VFCS):

A recently released, first-ever analysis of Army suicides shows that more than half the 948 soldiers who attempted suicide in 2006 had been seen by mental health providers before the attempt - 36 percent within just 30 days of the event. Of those who committed suicide in 2006, a third had an outpatient mental health visit within three months of killing themselves, and 42 percent had been seen at a military medical facility within three months.

Among soldiers who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan when they attempted suicide in 2005 and 2006, a full 60 percent had been seen by outpatient mental health workers before the attempts. Forty-three percent of the deployed troops who attempted suicide had been prescribed psychotropic medications, the report shows.

The report offers no details on the type or duration of mental health care that troops received before they tried to kill themselves. But it is prompting calls from some soldiers' advocates for better training of medical and behavioral health specialists in recognizing and treating service members in distress.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


Like soldiers' advocates, some family members of troops who have committed suicide question the quality of care being provided.

Yania Padilla of Bridgeport said her brother, Walter Padilla, was diagnosed with PTSD after he returned from Iraq in 2004. But she believes he never received adequate treatment from either the Army or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"He saw someone at Fort Carson" in Colorado, where he was stationed, she said. "They told him he was not to be assigned to duties where he had access to a firearm. I don't know what else they did, [but] he wasn't getting better."

Yania Padilla said her brother, a tank gunner who suffered from nightmares, flashbacks and stomach problems, received a medical discharge from the Army in December 2005. He then sought treatment from the Colorado VA. The outgoing, artistic young man who had followed his father into the Army became edgy and distant, his sister said.

On April 1 of this year, while living and working in Colorado Springs, Walter Padilla pressed his Glock pistol to his head and ended his life. He was 28.

After he died, the family found a bag full of prescription antidepressants in his apartment, said Yania, 31, a schoolteacher. "He never received the kind of help he needed," she said. "I just don't want to see the same thing happen to someone else."

A series in The Courant last year detailed a number of cases in which troops who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 had been seen by mental health workers and placed on powerful psychotropic drugs, with little to no counseling or monitoring. The military in August 2006 adopted detailed guidelines for dispensing psychiatric drugs to combat troops, calling on mental health providers to have weekly contact with patients, during the first weeks of treatment, and to ensure that troops receive psychotherapy.

Walter Padilla is not counted in the Army's suicide numbers, because he had been discharged before he died. The Army does not officially track veterans' suicides.

But suicides among active-duty soldiers have climbed in the last few years. In 2006, soldiers killed themselves at the highest rate in 26 years, with the number of suicides among those serving in Iraq exceeding the record level of 2005. At least 120 soldiers tried to kill themselves while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006.

In addition to these details, the Sacramento Bee reports:

In 2006, 30 soldiers and Marines committed suicide while serving in the war in Iraq, the most in any year since it began in 2003, according to information released by the Defense Manpower Data Center in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Bee. This year is on track to meet or surpass that number with at least 27 suicides so far in 2007.

Soldiers and Marines are being required to serve on the front lines for longer than any time in U.S. military history, according to a report on mental health by the Army's Office of the Surgeon General.

During World War II and Vietnam, service members were regularly and routinely withdrawn from war zones for rest, something that's not happening in this war, the report says.

The report also deemed the military's suicide prevention training not applicable in a combat environment. And with only one behavioral health specialist per 1,000 service members – one per 700 soldiers and 2,000 Marines – the question is whether service members would be able to access help even if they overcame the military stigmas surrounding mental health issues.

[UPDATE Nov 12, 2007]: WCVBtv Channel 5 report on troops returned to combat zone suffering with PTSD

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