Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans?

You may remember my previous discussion on suicide and the military from a few months ago. The focus of that report was on the spike in suicide rates among active duty U.S. Army personnel.

This new CBS News investigation (with statistical analysis by UGA's Dr. Steve Rathbun) has found some startling numbers regarding suicide among veterans, and quite possibly suggests the very essence of an epidemic that is being glossed over. (emphasis mine)

"In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states [which provided suicide data for the investigation], there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

"Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

"It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

"One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)"

I haven't read Rathbun's analysis, but if his numbers are accurate, and coming on the heels of various studies showing the explosion of veterans who are homeless on our streets, this would represent a public health epidemic of major proportions.

As I noted previously, suicide already is a public health epidemic in U.S. society (as we were reminded again, tragically, here in Athens this past week), yet we remain, as a society, loathe to discuss or even acknowledge it.

I guess a better question might be, how many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are going to survive the horrors and stresses of combat, merely to die on our streets? And when might we do something about it?

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