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According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, "A tragic milestone was reached last year, when 185 active-duty Army soldiers died by suicide, surpassing the 176 soldiers killed in battle in Afghanistan that year. The Army's annual death toll from suicide has more than tripled since 2001, when 52 active-duty soldiers took their own lives." This tragic epidemic reflects severe strains on military personnel burdened with more than a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, complicated by anxiety over the current prospect of being forced out of a shrinking force.

This news comes at a time when the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have mounted an aggressive series of suicide prevention campaigns and offer a wide range of resources to help active duty military, veterans, and their families cope with the pressures of military service. Despite these efforts, the Defense Department's own Suicide Prevention Office predicts "increasing suicide rates, despite over 900 prevention programs." 

In June 2015, thanks in part to intense lobbying by a coalition of Veteran Service Organizations that included the MOPH, the US Congress passed landmark legislation to address military and veteran related suicides. The $22 Million, "Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act" calls for independent evaluations of all mental health-care and suicide-prevention programs in the VA and Department of Defense. A part of this Act requires an annual evaluation to determine the effectiveness of VA suicide prevention programs and the establishment of new veteran peer support programs. It also called for the creation of a new website, now available at:  www.mentalhealth.va.gov, to better explain what mental health resources are available to veterans. 

The Suicide Prevention Act was named for Marine Cpl. Clay Hunt, a 28 year old, combat wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide in 2011. After leaving the Marine Corps, he struggled with depression, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress, despite dedicating himself to veterans' advocacy and humanitarian work. After his death, family and friends said he had been battling the Department of Veterans Affairs to get his disability rating upgraded from 30 percent, as well as struggling with unemployment and a marriage that was unraveling. Cpl. Hunt's case is often cited as an example of the problems within the VA. He told his Mother in March 2011 that he would not go back to the VA because dealing with them was just too stressful. Two weeks later, he locked himself in his apartment, and committed suicide. 

Military leaders say that some programs appear to be working, but it's too soon to declare success in the battle against suicides. Most importantly, the cultural mindset has changed -- it's now OK for a sailor, a soldier, an airman, or a Marine to come forward and ask for help, thus giving hope that prevention programs and increased efforts to identify troops at risk may be taking hold after several years of escalating suicides. At the same time, the suicide rates of female military veterans have been called "staggering." According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, "Research shows that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women. Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most of the research has focused on men and little is known about female veteran suicides." According to VA research data collected over the past 11 years, it is the younger female veterans, aged 18 to 29, that kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of non-veterans.

In sum, these are our brothers and sisters in arms, and we need to care, reach out and give assistance. If you see, or know of someone in crisis, "step-up and step-in!" Learn to recognize the signs of depression and helplessness and know where to look for the resources needed to help. There is no reason why a service member or a veteran should ever feel that they are alone, or worse-that there is no reason to go on living.

You Can Make A Difference.

For a review of warning signs someone may be at risk of suicide, click here. For a list of resources to get free and confidential help, click here. If you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans at 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.





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