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Friday, August 22, 2008

Portland Tribune Highlights Local and National Veterans' 'Suicide Epidemic'

The Portland Tribune's Peter Korn writes a tight piece on veterans and suicide, weaving together both local and national statistics:

“More often than not, the veterans I have spoken to all say they know somebody who has attempted suicide,” says Portland State University professor and suicide researcher Mark Kaplan.

The numbers are stark, and staggering:

• In 2005, the last year for which complete Oregon data has been compiled, 19 Oregon soldiers died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. That same year, 153 Oregon veterans of all ages, serving in various wars, committed suicide.

The rate of suicide among Oregon men who are veterans is more than double that of Oregon men in general — 46 suicides out of every 100,000 compared to 22 out of 100,000 — according to the Oregon Department of Human Services Center for Health Statistics.

• Nearly one in three Oregon suicides, according to Kaplan, is a veteran.

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


One surprising trend: Kaplan and other experts are noticing a rising trend of suicide among aging Vietnam veterans, possibly influenced by what they’ve seen in recent years about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, the age group in the state health statistics showing the greatest differential between veteran and nonveteran suicides, by far, are those between ages 18 and 24. Veterans between 35 and 44 have the next highest suicide rate relative to nonveterans of the same age. Twenty-one Oregon veterans under the age of 45 committed suicide in 2005.

Kaplan says even those numbers might be underreported as much as 25 percent.

Nationally, reports of high suicide rates among veterans began to gain attention in April, when a series of e-mails from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs officials came to light during a class-action lawsuit brought by a veterans group in San Francisco.

The e-mails say that 12,000 veterans under VA treatment attempt suicide each year, and that more than 6,000 veterans succeed in killing themselves each year. There are about 25 million veterans.

“There is clearly a suicide epidemic,” says Paul Sullivan, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Veterans For Common Sense, which brought the lawsuit. Sullivan says the VA’s own data on calls made to its suicide hot line might be the best indicator of the depth of the problem.

According to the VA, in July there were 250 calls a day to the suicide hot line. And veterans have made more than 22,000 calls since the hot line started in July 2007. Portland VA officials say 864 calls to the suicide hot line have come from Oregon veterans in the last year.

But Sullivan says the epidemic might not be most virulent among veterans from the two current wars, but from Vietnam-era veterans. He says many Vietnam veterans he has spoken to tell him that seeing images of the war in Iraq on television and in newspapers has triggered memories and trauma.

Highly recommend your reading the rest.

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