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Suicides Outpace War Deaths

Suicides among active duty military personnel have shot up this year. For the first time, it has surpassed the number of troops dying in battle. At the current rate, the numbers could set a new all-time high since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began over a decade ago. This increase continues even as we are withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Through June 1 of this year, there have been 154 suicides among active duty troops in Afghanistan compared to 124 American military casualties during the same period.
What is causing this alarming increase? Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, thinks the suicides are just the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Rieckhoff says it is due to “too few qualified mental health professionals, aggravated by the stigma of receiving counseling and further compounded by family stresses and financial problems.” The unemployment rate, which is higher among veterans, is a particular problem. Military personnel are thinking about combat, but they never forget their spouse and children back home. How will they be able to provide for them once they are home? All of this results in an unbelievable amount of stress.
Veterans’ groups think the Pentagon has not done enough to help moderate this stress under which combat troops live, including dealing with multiple deployments. These issues are not being addressed at the platoon, company, or battalion levels. Bruce Parry, chairman of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations, a group based in Illinois, says, “They need to understand on a much deeper level the trauma troops are facing.”
Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year through the Veterans Crisis Line. Since its inception in 2007, it has taken more than 640,000 calls and made more than 23,000 life-saving rescues. This service, available to veterans and their loved ones, connects you to a qualified and caring Department of Veterans Affairs responder. By dialing 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, you will find someone with whom you can talk.
If you or your post is interested in helping get the word to veterans in your community, contact your local VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator (SPC). SPC’s are at every VA Medical Center across the country. They can support our outreach efforts and provide suicide prevention training and collateral materials. To find your local SPC, log on to www.VeteransCrisisLine.net/resourcelocator.

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