VA study: 22 vets commit suicide every day

There are a couple of ways of measuring the suicide rate in a group of people: one is suicides per day, the other is suicides in 100,000 per year.

The newest findings for US military veterans suicides is up from 18 per day to 22 per day in the last year or so, in the 34 states reporting.

Researchers found that the average age of a veteran who commits suicide is about 60. Analysts concluded that Vietnam and female veterans need particular focus.They also determined that a very intense period of risk for suicide is the first four weeks after someone leaves the military, and that this period requires strong monitoring and case management.

The analysis found that the actual number of estimated suicides per day among veterans has remained relatively stable, ranging from 20 per day in 2000 to 18 per day in 2007 and 22 per day in 2009 and 2010, the latest estimates available, according to a report on the study released Friday. The rate of suicide among veterans who use VA health care services has remained steady in recent years, at about 36 per 100,000

Of course, however bad it is that 22 commit suicide per day it doesn’t mean much until looked at against the background rate in non-veterans.  This is typically stated in the #/100,000/year form.  The latest findings, world wide, show the rate in the United States is at about 12.5/100,000  Presumably, that includes the veterans, so if their deaths were taken out, the non-veteran rate would be somewhat lower.

12.x vs 36 would put the veterans rate in the very terrible range.

Almost as terrible as the rate for all citizens in Korea or Lithuania

It is interesting that the rates being reported are higher among older, Vietnam vets.  No discussion of how that parses out to age on the one hand — and so we should expect a similar result as Iraq and Afghanistan vets age– or to the war itself.  Did the Vietnam war have a more ‘suicidal’ effect on those vets than might be expected for more recent vets.

Also interesting that the report says over half the deaths are by drug over dose or poisoning.  I wouldn’t have expected that.  What is the death by self-inflicted gun shot, or death by cop?

Don’t know.  Work is needed

Iraq Vet Offers to Family He Destroyed — His Anguish

In a powerful article called Atonement in The New Yorker by the unparalleled Dexter Filkins we get a story that should be part of every recruiting package to anyone who thinks joining the armed forces is a good thing to do.

It tells of Lu Lobello, a hell-raising kid who joined the U.S. Marines and found himself in a fire-fight in Baghdad that nothing. nothing, nothing, had prepared him — or any of his squad– for.  Trained only for “when in doubt, light ’em up,” he was part of a massacre of an Armenian Christian family who were themselves trying to get out of harms way.  His memories of the afternoon have destroyed the rest of his life:  dishonorable discharge, heavy drinking,  continual insomnia.  Finally, in desperation, he decided to track down the young woman in the car they had shot at. And he found her — living in the United States, her shattered shoulder healed.  Filkins, who had written about the family after the incident, helped arrange a meeting between Lobello and Nora Kachadoorian.  And, out of uniform, away free fire zones and in the deepest wonder of human beings, he found forgiveness.

This is a story you will long remember.  It should be widely known, and read for all its lessons:

  • once in a war, you don’t get to chose what happens
  • what happens in 10 minutes may affect the rest of your life
  • bullets don’t know good guys from bad
  • no matter what you’ve prepared for, you haven’t prepared for this
  • no matter what your superiors tell you, they haven’t planned for this
  • some people, some times, find empathy beyond the imaginable

Some excerpts… but read it all..  New Yorker Oct 29 & Nov 5  [Sorry, no complete link.  You have to log in, or buy the issue, or go the library or a friend with a subscription, and of which will reward you] Read more of this post