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Veterans group survey shows alarming suicide numbers

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 30, 2013

WASHINGTON — Almost one-third of young veterans have thought about suicide and nearly half know a fellow veteran who has tried to kill themselves, according to a new survey of one veterans group.

The figures, from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America annual membership report, underscore the breadth of the mental health problems facing a generation of returning combat troops, and the continued challenge for military and veterans leaders in the fight against suicide.

The 4,000-plus member survey is not statistically representative of the entire post-9/11 veterans population, but does show that suicide continues to be a point of concern within the community.

Almost two-thirds of the IAVA members surveyed said they had a veteran friend who should seek mental health care. Half said their friends and family have encouraged them to seek similar treatment themselves.

According to Department of Veteran Affairs statistics, 22 veterans take their own lives each day. Those numbers reflect veterans from all generations, but raise concerns about the success of recent efforts by VA and Defense Department leaders on suicide prevention.

Tom Tarantino, IAVA’s chief policy officer, said the survey numbers show “we’re not going to see any real movement on this issue overnight.”

He noted that most of the military’s serious focus on suicide has emerged in the last few years, and that changing the stigma of seeking help will likely take years of emphasis from top department officials.

Of the 50 percent of members who said they were encouraged to seek treatment, about four in five did, according to the survey. The remaining veterans were too concerned that mental health treatment would hurt their careers or others’ opinion of them.

On a positive note, 93 percent of IAVA members surveyed were aware of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line — veteranscrisisline.net, 800-273-8255. VA officials have boosted the number of counselors and resources there in recent years to provide more support.

The full survey is online at http://iava.org/2013survey.

shane.leo@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeoShane
 

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