Roughly twenty-five US military veterans kill themselves every day. These are individuals who have served their country and should no longer be in harm’s way. Why do veterans commit suicide? This is the first question that we ask at No Fallen Heroes where we have committed ourselves to helping veterans and saving lives. Suicide in veterans is more than twice as common in those over fifty years of age than in younger veterans. Roughly 97% of veteran suicides are men. And veterans who are isolated or marginalized are twice or three times as likely to end their own lives than those with significant social and family support.
Veteran Versus Civilian Suicide
Individuals who never served in the armed forces commit suicide as well as military veterans but the rate is higher in veterans. A huge factor in this case is the frequency of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in those who served. Veterans are more like to suffer from these predisposing factors and to act on a plan to commit suicide. Because these individuals are ones who are unlikely to have sough help from a mental health professional it is important that non-mental health physicians, clergy, family, friends, and acquaintances be aware of the needs of veterans and actively intervene. A factor that makes veterans more prone to suicide is guilt which is related to combat situations in regard to having survived when comrades did not or were severely injured. Aside from combat-specific experiences, veterans have the same risk factors including feelings of hopelessness and depression, histories of trauma, availability of firearms, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The difference is largely that PTSD and other factors are more prevalent in the veteran population and especially the older veteran population.
Military Deployments and Veteran Suicide
The longer that a service members is deployed the higher the risk of divorce. When divorce happens it is commonly right after the end of an especially long deployment. How this relates to suicide is that social isolation relates to depression and suicide risk, especially in middle-aged men who also drink. Longer deployments in active war zones also increases the risk of PTSD as do more intense and frequent combat situations in which comrades in arms are killed. If the service member suffers a traumatic brain injury it has a significant affect on their risk of a later suicide. Life-long injuries have a similar effect of increasing the risk of suicide.
Prior Life Experience
The same factors that predispose to suicidal thoughts, plans and committing suicide affect veterans as well and add to their level of risk. These include prior physical and psychological trauma. The more frequent and severe the trauma to more likely it is that subsequent trauma in the military will predispose to getting PTSD, becoming depressed, and developing suicidal thoughts.
Factors That Protect Against Suicide
It can be difficult to transition from military to civilian life, especially for those who have spent a decade or more instead of a couple of years in military service. For younger veterans the G.I Bill and other education benefits are a boon to getting a start in a new life. However, the G.I. Bill, by facilitating transition to civilian life is correlated with a lower risk of depression, PTSD, suicide. Increased socialization and reintegration into civilian life are factors that protect against suicide. There are, however, factors that inhibit these benefits. When vets have trouble relating to other students, have problems switching from a military to an academic environment, experience negative stigmas related to their military service, lack social support, feel isolated, or have problems with stable housing or income any or all of these increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, planning and suicide.