The rate of suicide in significantly higher among military veterans than it is among the veteran community. And the risk of suicide is even greater among recently discharged veterans. Why does transition to civilian life increase the risk of suicide? An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looks at the association of suicide risk with transition to civilian life. Understanding why veterans commit suicide at specific times and under specific conditions helps in targeting efforts to prevent the deaths of our military heroes.
Study of Suicide in Recently Discharged Military
The researchers in this study evaluated data from the DOD Defense Identity Repository and selected US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard veterans whose active duty service started September 11, 2002 and later and whose separation from the military took place between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2017. The data was analyzed between September 2019 and April 2020 allowing for at least 22 months of time separated from military service for all cases evaluated. Thus the study looked at individuals who had been out of military service for no more than six years and no fewer than 22 months.
Breakdown of Veteran Suicide Study Results
The study included 1,868,970 service members, 84.1% men, with an average age at separation of 30.9 years. The study identified 3030 suicides in this group, 2960 men and 170 women. The peak time for suicides was six to eight months after discharge and the rate slowly declined from that point. Men where statistically more likely than women to commit suicide. The youngest veterans, aged 17 to 19, had rates of suicide four and a half times that of those vets who left the service after age 40. Army and Marine Corps vets had a higher rate of suicide than Air Force vets even after six years of separation from the service. Discharge directly from active duty was more highly correlated with suicide that discharge from reserve status. And those who served for shorter lengths of time before discharge had a higher risk of suicide than those who served for longer periods. Furthermore, not all branches of service had the same suicide risk at discharge.
Correlation of Early Discharge and Other Suicide Risk Factors
Some leave military service as soon as they can because they decide the military was the wrong choice for them. Others learn skills that they can use in civilian life and leave to pursue a new career. Some use the military to qualify for an education after they leave. And all too many veterans leave because of injuries, trauma, or other factors that may predispose to suicide upon reentering civilian life. Depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other permanent injuries do not require a long time in military service to acquire. And all of these may lead to early discharge from military service. At No Fallen Heroes we are acutely aware depression, PTSD, social isolation, and other suicide risk factors. Isolation is a risk factor and social isolation can easily happen when a veteran enters civilian life after even a short stint in the military. A person adapts to the routine of military life. They may or may not like it but they fit into a routine and a system that gives them meaning and purpose, comrades in arms and friends. When they leave the military they need to exercise skills that they did not need in the service in order to stay connected and find meaning in their new life. These are all issues that occur in the first weeks, months, and years after discharge when suicide risk is high. It is a time when veterans are learning to cope, or not learning to cope, with service connected disabilities. It is a time when trauma from military service can come back to haunt the vet and crowd out the normal aspects of their new civilian life and even lead to loss of close relationships.
In order to help reduce the incidence of veteran suicide it is necessary to identify those at highest risk. Although many treatments for risk factors are not perfect, the veteran deserves attention and care with his or her problems and support in transitioning to a new life. At No Fallen Heroes we stand ready to help in all ways that we can in this effort.