Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Veteran Suicides at all Time High - Compensation Backlog Still Soaring

Recent statistics have surfaced that show in the year 2012, more veterans committed suicide than died in combat.  While this is a stunning statistic, I wanted to uncover just what those numbers were and how they related to previous years.  The Associated Press and the Pentagon reported that 349 veterans killed themselves during 2012.  The number of soldiers being killed in combat totaled 249 for last year.  Stars and Stripes provides an excellent article here.

This number has skyrocketed since this most recent war post-9/11.  In 2005, the suicide figures were half of the current rate.  Army veterans account for the majority of the suicides while Marine Corps veterans saw the largest percentage jump of over 50 percent increase from 2011 to 2012.  The Stars and Stripes article points to stress, guns, and alcohol being contributing factors to suicide.  They also acknowledge that vets with depression, PTSD, and financial stresses, legal problems, and troubled relationship are often comorbid with these suicides.  Impulsivity and behavior problems as well as prior attempts at suicide are mentioned.  However, 45 percent of those that successfully ended their own life in 2012 had no prior record of attempts or behavior issues. 

As a wife to a combat wounded veteran who has essentially been in a high risk category for suicide since I met him almost a decade ago, this is alarming to me.

During our first year together, I recall John coming home and describing the pre-deployment suicide prevention and awareness course that he had to sit through.  He named off a host of categories in which he was in that related to the highest risk of suicide, per the Army's then current statistics.  He said the information was depressing and I recall him saying he raised his hand to jokingly ask if they wanted them to just go ahead and kill themselves because they fit all those disturbing categories.  

Based on the last two years worth of data from this article, divorced veterans, vets without a college education, and young soldiers under the age of 25 are more likely than their counterparts to take their own life. 

While adapting back to civilian life and finding a sense of  hope and being is a problem for many, I see the a few other problems from my vantage point.  First, if financial woes are a problem and risk factor for suicide as this frustrates vets to an irrational state of helplessness, then the VA can not process their backlog of over 863,000 claims fast enough.  This number was reported by NPR during December 2012. 

We, like many in this backlog, have experienced years wait time, improperly filed documents, inadequate reports submitted by third party contractors for the VA, and simple denials without even reviewing our evidence.  Denials which I believe only happened so that the VA could add those claims to the list of processed claims without even reviewing evidence.  

The fight for compensation is almost as bad and possibly even more frustrating for some than being in the midst of battle.  These vets feel the government and nation they fought for doesn't care enough to efficiently compensate them for what they deserve.

The NY Times article mentions the enormous backlog and notes an almost 90 year old widow who had to wait around two years for the VA to pay a survivor's pension.  This should not be the case.  Likewise, younger vets seeking compensation are being put off and being denied and it is causing some of them to file for bankruptcy while others have severe frustrations and suicidal ideations and actions.

Navy SEAL Robert Guzzo committed suicide in November 2012. (Screenshot from The Fold)
Click to watch video
I recognize many advocates and family members speaking out more about suicide now than ever before.  They want to reduce the stigma and encourage others to get help before they go to the attempts or success to end their own lives.  The family of Robert Guzzo, a Navy Seal who committed suicide on Veteran's Day 2012, speaks out on this video via the Washington Post. While ultimately each is responsible for his own behavior, often signs of suicide are being ignored by many.  This includes law enforcement agencies, family members, doctors, and VA staff.  

While we've experienced this nonchalant brushing off by all of the above categories, we also have a great support system that many aren't blessed enough to have at their disposal.  If you know a vet that is depressed, is in distress, or may be having suicidal thought and/or actions, I urge you to be there for them, advocate for them, be with them, call 911 or other crisis lines if needed, point them in the right directions, and do whatever possible to make them feel accepted, needed, hopeful, and safe.

The Defense Department's/VA toll-free crisis number is 800-273-8255.
Online: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: http://www.taps.org

The American Veterans With Brain Injuries group posted this info on FB this week:  
It should also be understood that the VA crisis line is for ALL Veterans who may be in crisis. Very often events can bring difficulties to the surface that have been hidden or "stuffed" for years, sometimes decades! If you know a veteran showing the following warning signs or symptoms, reach out and DO SOMETHING! 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
These signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.

Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
Talking about being a burden to others.
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
Sleeping too little or too much.
Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
Displaying extreme mood swings.

Additional Warning Signs of Suicide
Preoccupation with death.
Suddenly happier, calmer.
Loss of interest in things one cares about.
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
Making arrangements; setting one's affairs in order.
Giving things away, such as prized possessions.

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