In 2017 more than 16 US military veterans a day committed suicide on average for total of 6139 for the year. Veteran suicide rates went up during the Covid Pandemic. Veterans have many factors that predispose to suicide including PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury. Isolation during the first phases of the pandemic exacerbated problems that veterans have to cope with and reduced access to the sorts of coping mechanisms that depressed veterans would normally take advantage of. We discuss veteran suicide ruing the Covid pandemic.
Pre-existing Psychiatric Disorders In Veterans
Compared to the non-veteran adult community in the USA, veterans experience a higher incidence of psychosocial stressors, adverse physical conditions, and pre-existing psychiatric problems. Depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, substance abuse problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder all make the life of a veteran difficult and can predispose to feelings of helplessness and the decision to end it all. In addition, vets commonly suffer from physical problems stemming from their military service. These conditions include spinal cord and traumatic brain injury, chronic pain and amputations. Add to this mix legal problems, social isolation, and marital problems and you have a powerful recipe for predisposing vets to commit suicide. In the vet population that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan studies showed that one eight of vets had suicidal thoughts in the two weeks immediately prior to the survey. In the population of veterans who contemplated suicide there were higher rates of PTSD, depression, alcohol abuse, and a host of psychosocial stresses. A review of 2,674 veterans who had committed suicide had suffered from sleep disorders, traumatic brain injury, and HIV/AIDS.
Covid-19 Effects on Veterans
Pretty much everyone experienced social isolation, anxiety, uncertainty, and economic problems in the early phases of the pandemic when businesses were shut down and social interaction was limited to the internet and telephone. Factors related to the pandemic and shutdowns caused new psychological problems and made existing ones worse. Vets carry a higher-than-normal risk of substance abuse and psychological disorders making that group highly prone to suffer more and choose to end their lives.
Overwhelmed Health Care System
In an ideal world the heath care system would have responded precisely and promptly to the mental health difficulties experienced by veterans during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Then hospitals and clinics needed to limit access to their facilities to limit the spread of the virus. Vets being turned away without even an appointment no doubt had an effect of these individuals. Many facilities turned to virtual visits by phone or teleconference. Unfortunately, not everyone is computer savvy and able to make good use of such services. This was the time when veterans and everyone who needs a support network needed a better functioning system and it was not there. Ideally, someone should have screened veteran populations for risk factors for suicide and prioritized their care but whatever efforts were made fell short.
Heightened Responses to Trauma and Anxiety-inducing Factors
A problem seen in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is that their brains are overly sensitive to threats and perceived threats. To a degree this may have been what kept them alive during combat but the same fight or flight responses that can be helpful in military situations cause unending trouble in normal life. Thus, when the world caught Covid and everyone freaked out, vets were more likely than most to have difficulty coping. Add the belief in many veterans that they need to be strong and self-reliant. That attitude tends to keep these heroes from seeking help just when they need it.
Access to and Competence in the Use of Firearms
Firearms are the principle means of committing suicide in the veteran community. Many vets own firearms and know how to use them. When worse comes to worst, veterans tend to use the means at their disposal instead of picking up a phone and calling an old comrade in arms. At No Fallen Heroes we pledge ourselves to fighting against veteran suicide in all ways possible. Predisposing factors need to be addressed and new treatment such as the use of psychedelic medicines need to be fast-tracked in order that we can reduce an eliminate veteran suicide so that there are no more fallen heroes.