Army Suicides Rise in October
Posted by Moran Banai on November 21
Today, one week after Veterans Day, the Army announced that 29 soldiers potentially took their own lives in October. These numbers are part of a suicide epidemic that continues to take its toll on the military community. They remind us that as we honor the men and women who have served in our nation’s wars, we must ensure that when they come home, they get the support they need to thrive.
So far in 2011, 243 soldiers have committed suicide, only 62 less than took their lives in all of 2010. At least 468 service members from all military branches died by suicide in 2010—more than died in combat. And the numbers are likely even worse among veterans. The VA estimated that 6,000 veterans took their lives in 2009.
The Center for New American Security (CNAS) recently released a policy brief on suicide in the military community. It highlighted what we know about these suicides—the limited numbers we have on service member and veteran suicides—and the wide gaps in our knowledge. And offered recommendations about what the military, government and society as a whole can do to ensure that more service members, veterans and family members get the care and support they need. The CNAS brief notes that DoD and VA leaders have made this issue a top priority, yet face “persistent obstacles.”
One of these obstacles is the lack of full information about the issue. Each service tracks suicides differently and the VA can only track the deaths of veterans who are registered with the VA health system. Like IAVA, CNAS seeks more robust and consistent data, because without a full understanding of the scope of the issue, it is hard to implement solutions.
CNAS also focuses on the stigma associated with seeking mental health care. This stigma is part of the reason that service members and veterans do not seek care. As the policy brief highlights, “43 percent of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who took their own lives in 2010 did not seek help from military treatment facilities in the month before their deaths.” Although more service members are seeking care in greater numbers, the brief argues, stigma remains a significant issue. CNAS calls on military leaders to eliminate the stigma, hold those who mock care accountable and ensure that funerals or memorials are held for those who commit suicide.
IAVA has long argued that the only way to eliminate stigma is to educate all Americans about invisible injuries and the importance of seeking care and community. That is why we launched our historic public service campaign with the Ad Council three years ago on Veterans Day—to fight the stigma and direct veterans to Community of Veterans, an exclusive online community for confirmed veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan where they could speak with other veterans in a safe space. And, that is why we continually call on DoD and the VA to initiate their own public service campaign with the help of advertising experts.
As we mark Veterans Day, we must look to solutions like these to fight this epidemic. Our service members and their families serve proudly and honorably overseas and at home. We must make sure that they are given the tools and support to succeed in the field and back home.
Moran Banai is IAVA’s Senior Research Associate in Washington, DC, where she leads the efforts of IAVA’s research team. She has a BA from Brown University and Master in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
IAVA has helped thousands of veterans. Here are some of their stories:
On Sunday, March 18th, IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff and…
On August 5th, IAVA Member Veterans joined President Obama at the Navy Yard…