Thursday, January 29, 2009

Suicide Isn't Painless

The lyrics to the old M*A*S*H TV show suggested that suicide is painless. But not to friends and loved ones left behind.

The Associated Press is quoting senior Pentagon officials as saying the suicide rate among Army troops is at a nearly three-decade high.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says the problem is not limited to active duty soldiers and has released a report of its own today.

"The suicide numbers released today come as no surprise to veterans, who have experienced first-hand the psychological toll of war. Since the Iraq war began, suicide rates and other signs of psychological injury, like marital strain and substance abuse, have been increasing every year," said IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff. "The DOD and the VA must take bold and immediate action. Our new report recommends tangible, effective policies to help troops and veterans get the care they need."

According to preliminary military data released by the Associated Press, at least 128 Army soldiers committed suicide in 2008, compared to 115 in 2007. These numbers do not include suicides among veterans, for whom suicide is a growing problem. According to the VA records from 2002 to 2006, at least 254 Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans have killed themselves.

The new IAVA report shows these numbers are reflective of larger trends. Service members deploying on long and repeated combat tours face higher rates of combat stress. In combat and at home, these invisible injuries are exacerbated by inadequate mental health screening and limited access to counseling.

Just this week, IAVA also introduced its' 2009 Legislative Agenda, which calls for improving mandatory mental health and TBI screening, increasing access to trained mental health professionals, and ensuring military families have access to mental health care.

"The new numbers represent the highest Army suicide rate in 27 years," said IAVA Policy Director Vanessa Williamson. "If we're going to address the spike in suicide rates, we have to start by ensuring every service member coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan gets face-to-face screening from a mental health professional."

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