At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to the reduction and eventual elimination of veteran suicide. Suicide among military veterans more common that suicide among those who have never served in the armed forces. This is sad but not surprising. What is troubling is that veteran suicides exceed deaths in combat. From 2001 through 2021, 7057 service members died in combat. During the same two decades since 9/11 30,177 who served since 9/11 have died by suicide. That is, it was four times more likely to die by one’s own hand for service members and veterans than to be killed by a foreign enemy.
Why Are Suicide Rates So High?
Although active duty personnel and veterans committed suicide prior to the War on Terror records on veteran suicide were not kept until after 2001 when it became apparent that had become a major problem. Records within active duty military show that suicide rates of those still on active duty are now higher than an any time prior or the Second Word War in some service branches. There are numerous risk factors for committing suicide including the following:
- A history of suicide attempts
- Depression, other mental disorders, or substance use disorder
- Chronic pain
- Family history of a mental disorder or substance use
- Family history of suicide
- Exposure to family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Presence of guns or other firearms in the home
- Having recently been released from prison or jail
- Exposure, either directly or indirectly, to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
Within the mental health category PTSD is a major contributor in veterans. Not everyone who falls into a risk category follows through and commits suicide. But the severity of the underlying problem, the number of problems, and the frequency of such problems in any given group of people all increase the frequency of suicide.
The Unwinnable War
Going back to the Revolutionary War American armed forces have typically gone to war with a specific goal in mind and have come home when that goal was attained. On the eve of D-Day then-General Eisenhower had a one page letter given to everyone involved in the invasion stating why they were there and what the goal was. Within a year of Allied Forces establishing a beachhead in Normandy Germany surrendered and shortly thereafter so did Japan. Unlike WWII the Vietnam War dragged on and on with no clear end in sight and similarly we have seen the War on Terror become a never ending fight against an enemy that is defeated in one place and then pops up somewhere else. Although PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injury occurred in the two world wars they appear to have been less frequent in US participants. The point is that we may well be in a new era where suicide risk is higher in those who serve and served than ever before.
Preventing Veteran Suicide
Some risk factors for veteran suicide can be addressed by social and professional means like assistance in transitioning from active duty to civilian life, treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, and social isolation due. But what is needed for issues like depression and PTSD are effective medicines and treatments. Here is where we at No Fallen Heroes are excited about something that could make a huge difference in reducing veteran suicides. The FDA has given special status to research for the use of psychedelic medicines in treating both depression and PTSD which are both major contributors to veteran suicides. Unlike when drugs like MDMA and psilocybin are used in recreational settings, when used for treatment along with professional therapy they are used in pharmaceutical quality and quantity and very small doses. Nevertheless they provide relief lasting up to six years.