Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Veteran Suicide Remains a Problem

 

shutterstock_181602527According to a 2013 Veterans Affairs study, approximately 22 veterans take their own lives every day. That is a staggering 8,030 soldiers a year. In a recent article, former Army Ranger and author Sean Parnell points out that the cause of these disturbing numbers remains unknown. He suggests that it may have to do with the Veterans Administration’s process for identifying and treating soldiers with suicidal ideation:

Given the well-documented challenges in getting access to VA services, there’s little reason to believe a gigantic dysfunctional bureaucracy can respond with the appropriate speed and sensitivity needed for a veteran struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Parnell isn’t wrong. The VA is the Gordian Knot of bureaucratic disasters. How much they are to blame for suicides can only be speculated at but, considering how many individuals have died by accident while under the care of the VA, it’s not an unreasonable suggestion.

Another possibility comes from Forbes, proposing “toxic leadership” may have something to do with it. David Matsuda, an anthropologist, was asked to help find the root cause of suicide among U.S. soldiers, and he decided the best way to go about finding an answer was to study military culture:

The standard investigation of a suicide in the Army is to ask what was wrong with the individual soldier, such as a history of mental illness or a marital breakup. Matsuda decided to take a ‘different angle’ and discovered that soldiers who took their own lives usually did have personal problems, but they also had leaders who were pushing them over the edge by making their lives a living hell.

I think Matsuda’s conclusion is closer to the truth. Military leadership drives everything. Any service member will tell you that when leadership is good, morale is high, and the soldiers are happy. But when it’s unreasonable, unbearable, and unnecessarily punitive, morale is low and soldiers behave accordingly. But is poor military leadership really so pervasive that it creates suicidal despair among the ranks? Apparently so. As soon as the military began looking, they kept finding things. It now defines “toxic leadership” (which it estimates that 20% of U.S. Army soldiers serve under) as follows:

Toxic leadership is a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance. This leader lacks concern for others and the climate of the organization, which leads to short- and long-term negative effects. The toxic leader operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest. Toxic leaders consistently use dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves. The negative leader completes short-term requirements by operating at the bottom of the continuum of commitment, where followers respond to the positional power of their leader to fulfill requests. This may achieve results in the short term, but ignores the other leader competency categories of leads and develops. Prolonged use of negative leadership to influence followers undermines the followers’ will, initiative, and potential and destroys unit morale.

Whatever the cause, veteran suicide is a serious issue that warrants further study. Soldiers with suicidal tendencies need access to good mental health care, and the VA may not be the best model for this kind of care. Parnell suggests non-profits and faith-based practices might be better suited to treat these soldiers. Another option is private practice therapists and clinics that do pro bono work with veterans and their families.

When it comes to preventing someone from taking their life, all options need to be available. This is not the time to become obstinate and difficult about treating our soldiers because “that’s not how things are done.” It’s the time to move bureaucratic hurdles and get our men and women the help they need.

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  1. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This piece implies that the VA has knowledge of all veterans – there is a significant number of us who are unknown to the VA – because of the bureaucratic hurdle of even applying.

    • #1
    • May 4, 2015, at 5:56 AM PDT
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  2. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I theoretically have access to VA healthcare for a few service related conditions like the shoulder that is making it almost impossible to function right now. However, I can’t just look on their website and find a number to call for an appointment. Should I even find the number to call I’ll be notified by mail (eventually) of when to show up, my busy schedule be damned. Should I get over these hurdles then I get to pay (I think there’s some reimbursement scheme I can’t figure out) to get to the VA hospital in Seattle (either near $40 for the ferry or drive 3 hours round trip, traffic permitting.) It sure makes just going to my own doctor a viable option even with my deductible and copays.

    There has to be a better way to provide veteran health care. For the price we pay for the bureaucracy of the VA we could probably direct pay non-government doctors.

    • #2
    • May 4, 2015, at 6:13 AM PDT
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  3. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This oft-cited statistic is very misleading. Because military service is rarer today than 50 years ago during the Vietnam era, 70% of America’s veterans are over the age of 50. Of the 22 suicides per day, 15 of them are in this age group.

    The farther one gets from active duty, the less likely that duty is grounds for suicidal action, that is, until retirement and the infirmaries of old age begin to take their toll. With fewer distractions and increased short term memory loss, the long term memories overtake. Between 2005 and ’08 there were over 500 suicides of WWII vets in the state of California alone, all of them over the age of 80.

    Do we need to get better in taking care of our veterans? Hell, yes. Do we need to get better throwing around sloppy media reports? That, too.

    • #3
    • May 4, 2015, at 6:14 AM PDT
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  4. John Walker Contributor

    I do not mean to suggest that there is not a problem with suicide among veterans, and that investigating the causes is an unworthy effort, but it’s important to put the statistics into context.

    The suicide rate for the general population in the U.S. is around 14 per 100,000 per year, while the suicide rate for veterans is given as around 30 per 100,000/year (although as noted in comment #1, the latter figure may be under- or over-reported). That would seem to imply that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as the population as a whole. But that doesn’t correct for fact that veterans are overwhelmingly male, and that in the general population the rate of death due to suicide is much higher for men, at least three to one, than for women. (Women, however, attempt suicide but do not die from the attempt about twice as often as men.)

    Thus, the correct comparison would be the rate of suicides among veterans to that of a collection of civilians with the same proportion of men and women as the veterans. It may be that this would show little or no excess of suicides among veterans at all. It should not be difficult to run these numbers.

    • #4
    • May 4, 2015, at 6:20 AM PDT
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  5. Jordan Inactive

    The King Prawn:I theoretically have access to VA healthcare for a few service related conditions like the shoulder that is making it almost impossible to function right now. However, I can’t just look on their website and find a number to call for an appointment. Should I even find the number to call I’ll be notified by mail (eventually) of when to show up, my busy schedule be damned. Should I get over these hurdles then I get to pay (I think there’s some reimbursement scheme I can’t figure out) to get to the VA hospital in Seattle (either near $40 for the ferry or drive 3 hours round trip, traffic permitting.) It sure makes just going to my own doctor a viable option even with my deductible and copays.

    There has to be a better way to provide veteran health care. For the price we pay for the bureaucracy of the VA we could probably direct pay non-government doctors.

    For a time I also had access to theoretical VA benefits. Their costs, however, outweighed their benefits. I believe they make them intentionally difficult to access to reduce usage.

    • #5
    • May 4, 2015, at 6:20 AM PDT
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  6. Gus Chiggins Inactive

    John Walker:I do not mean to suggest that there is not a problem with suicide among veterans, and that investigating the causes is an unworthy effort, but it’s important to put the statistics into context.

    The suicide rate for the general population in the U.S. is around 14 per 100,000 per year, while the suicide rate for veterans is given as around 30 per 100,000/year (although as noted in comment #1, the latter figure may be under- or over-reported). That would seem to imply that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as the population as a whole. But that doesn’t correct for fact that veterans are overwhelmingly male, and that in the general population the rate of death due to suicide is much higher for men, at least three to one, than for women. (Women, however, attempt suicide but do not die from the attempt about twice as often as men.)

    Thus, the correct comparison would be the rate of suicides among veterans to that of a collection of civilians with the same proportion of men and women as the veterans. It may be that this would show little or no excess of suicides among veterans at all. It should not be difficult to run these numbers.

    ^This

    • #6
    • May 4, 2015, at 6:31 AM PDT
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  7. Jason Rudert Member

    This is also part of a wider tendency to attribute everything that veterans do or experience to their military service. Remember that for a lot of them, the military was just a job they had for four years. Remember that as an organization gets larger, the more its people will attract to the mean for the US population. And the military, particularly when you use veterans of all age classes, is a very big population. They will, over the course of their lives, act very much like the rest of the American population, because that’s where they are drawn from. Homelessness, drug use, divorce, rape, crimes–all of these things get attributed to military service when they’re just parts of American life.

    • #7
    • May 4, 2015, at 8:05 AM PDT
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  8. captainpower Inactive

    Jason Rudert:This is also part of a wider tendency to attribute everything that veterans do or experience to their military service.

    Also, the left seems to like the “wounded” part of veterans because it gives them another cudgel against military action of any kind while purporting to be in favor of the little guy.

    It’s ok, even welcomed, to be scarred by the horrors of war.

    It’s not ok to be pretty much fine, or to have found out you liked killing bad guys and were good at it.

    In a recent “Uncommon Knowledge” where Peter Robinson interviewed US General James Mattis, the issue came up of how damaging military service is to recover from. General Mattis basically said it’s tough, but people can be crushed by it or rise to the challenge and become better people. He disputes that being crushed is the norm.

    https://ricochet.com/soldiers-not-victims/

    • #8
    • May 4, 2015, at 8:49 AM PDT
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  9. Ross C Member
    Ross C Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I would be very interested to see if comparison statistics for military suicide versus the general population, by race, by sex exist. I don’t know that we know what to focus on for sure.

    I would agree with King Prawn that the government operating its own health care system for veterans sounds like a bad idea. Either give them health vouchers (the terms of which I don’t know) or just give them cash payments. The VA has worked out about how we might expect it to have.

    • #9
    • May 4, 2015, at 9:25 AM PDT
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  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ross C: I would be very interested to see if comparison statistics for military suicide versus the general population, by race, by sex exist. I don’t know that we know what to focus on for sure.

    It’s not just comparison against the general population. You also need to look at the numbers within the veteran population.

    In a study done by the Army and published in the February 2015 Annals of Epidemiology, they followed up on 1.3 million veterans discharged beteen 2001-08. Of those 1.3M there were 9,353 non-combat related deaths or about .7% of the study group.

    Suicide was listed as the cause of death in around 20% of those cases. Yet, there was an almost statistically insignificant difference between those that were deployed and those that served and never saw combat. (Deployed: 21.2% Non-Deployed: 19.7%) In other words, a vet that saw combat in Iraq or Afghanistan was is no greater danger of suicide than an airman repairing C-130s at an airbase in Germany.

    • #10
    • May 4, 2015, at 10:09 AM PDT
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  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I also need to say something about the “Toxic Leadership” assertion. IF only 20% of US Military personnel work under a boss that they dislike they’re in much better shape than their civilian counterparts. 60% of those surveyed by Business News Daily reported that their boss did something to “hurt their self esteem” and 40% of those that changed jobs did so merely because they dispised their immediate supervisor.

    This blame the military mindset, blame the military culture, etc. etc., is bovine backside emissions.

    • #11
    • May 4, 2015, at 10:45 AM PDT
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  12. SPare Member

    EJHill:I also need to say something about the “Toxic Leadership” assertion. IF only 20% of US Military personnel work under a boss that they dislike they’re in much better shape than their civilian counterparts. 60% of those surveyed by Business News Daily reported that their boss did something to “hurt their self esteem” and 40% of those that changed jobs did so merely because they dispised their immediate supervisor.

    This blame the military mindset, blame the military culture, etc. etc., is bovine backside emissions.

    My experience has typically been that military leadership as actually practiced (at least as applied to Captains and up) is about 1% as authoritarian as similarly situated leadership in the business world. I attribute it to the fact that there’s a solid discipline in place, so that a leader knows that his subordinates will fall in line as soon as he gives the word. It gives a lot more room for collegial discussions before that point without as much worry that alternate agendas will emerge.

    • #12
    • May 4, 2015, at 11:08 AM PDT
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  13. A.D.P. Efferson Contributor
    A.D.P. Efferson

    EJHill:This oft-cited statistic is very misleading. Because military service is rarer today than 50 years ago during the Vietnam era, 70% of America’s veterans are over the age of 50. Of the 22 suicides per day, 15 of them are in this age group.

    The farther one gets from active duty, the less likely that duty is grounds for suicidal action, that is, until retirement and the infirmaries of old age begin to take their toll. With fewer distractions and increased short term memory loss, the long term memories overtake. Between 2005 and ’08 there were over 500 suicides of WWII vets in the state of California alone, all of them over the age of 80.

    Do we need to get better in taking care of our veterans? Hell, yes. Do we need to get better throwing around sloppy media reports? That, too.

    Do you have a link for the 15 being older vets? Because that makes perfect sense, I’ve just never seen that before. It also makes perfect sense because that demographic has greater numbers of suicides in general.

    • #13
    • May 4, 2015, at 7:02 PM PDT
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  14. A.D.P. Efferson Contributor
    A.D.P. Efferson

    Jason Rudert:This is also part of a wider tendency to attribute everything that veterans do or experience to their military service. Remember that for a lot of them, the military was just a job they had for four years. Remember that as an organization gets larger, the more its people will attract to the mean for the US population. And the military, particularly when you use veterans of all age classes, is a very big population. They will, over the course of their lives, act very much like the rest of the American population, because that’s where they are drawn from. Homelessness, drug use, divorce, rape, crimes–all of these things get attributed to military service when they’re just parts of American life.

    You make a good point. Most of the suicides are not attributable to time spent deployed in war zones, which most thought. Be that as it may, I do think it’s worth exploring the underlying reasons.

    • #14
    • May 4, 2015, at 7:04 PM PDT
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  15. A.D.P. Efferson Contributor
    A.D.P. Efferson

    captainpower:

    Jason Rudert:This is also part of a wider tendency to attribute everything that veterans do or experience to their military service.

    Also, the left seems to like the “wounded” part of veterans because it gives them another cudgel against military action of any kind while purporting to be in favor of the little guy.

    It’s ok, even welcomed, to be scarred by the horrors of war.

    It’s not ok to be pretty much fine, or to have found out you liked killing bad guys and were good at it.

    In a recent “Uncommon Knowledge” where Peter Robinson interviewed US General James Mattis, the issue came up of how damaging military service is to recover from. General Mattis basically said it’s tough, but people can be crushed by it or rise to the challenge and become better people. He disputes that being crushed is the norm.

    https://ricochet.com/soldiers-not-victims/

    Thank you for sharing this link. The statistics absolutely support Mattis’ assessment of those coming out of combat. The large majority of soldiers have good coping skills to deal with the stressors of combat.

    • #15
    • May 4, 2015, at 7:07 PM PDT
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  16. A.D.P. Efferson Contributor
    A.D.P. Efferson

    EJHill:I also need to say something about the “Toxic Leadership” assertion. IF only 20% of US Military personnel work under a boss that they dislike they’re in much better shape than their civilian counterparts. 60% of those surveyed by Business News Daily reported that their boss did something to “hurt their self esteem” and 40% of those that changed jobs did so merely because they dispised their immediate supervisor.

    This blame the military mindset, blame the military culture, etc. etc., is bovine backside emissions.

    These things are not mutually exclusive, however. We can examine bad leadership as a cause, and not blame the military at the same time. I agree, I am unimpressed with the “blame the military” argument as well.

    • #16
    • May 4, 2015, at 7:11 PM PDT
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  17. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A.D.P. Efferson: Do you have a link for the 15 being older vets? Because that makes perfect sense, I’ve just never seen that before. It also makes perfect sense because that demographic has greater numbers of suicides in general.

    A Misunderstood Statistic, LA Times 12/20/13

    The missing context behind the widely cited statistic that there are 22 veteran suicides a day – Washington Post 2/4/15

    • #17
    • May 4, 2015, at 7:31 PM PDT
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  18. ST Inactive
    ST

    Last time I checked, there was not much difference between the suicide rates for deployed (to combat) and the non-deployed soldiers. I am not in favor of suicide; however, the “alarming” rate of vet suicides may just be a hammer looking for a nail.

    • #18
    • May 4, 2015, at 10:25 PM PDT
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  19. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    No, Simon, it’s much more sinister than that. This misinformation campaign is political in nature.

    See, Republicans start wars, they use up these young men to boost their defense stocks, to save their Mideast oil contracts and then don’t give a damn about them when they come home. And when they realize what pawns they’ve been they just off themselves!

    That’s the push behind the narrative. Details just get in the way!

    • #19
    • May 5, 2015, at 5:48 AM PDT
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  20. Profile Photo Member

    I find it ludicrous that ‘caring’ people in civilian culture (of almost every political stripe) find no hesitation in hanging our perceived societal woes around the necks of our veterans – and serving warriors. This sort of hand-wringing, myth-making is enough to drive one to drastic measures in and of itself…As one whose daily decisions begin with whether to have someone haul me out of bed in the morning; to which I sometimes say yes with gritted teeth, I’m with Gen. Mattis; let’s identify and encourage strategies for PTG (post-traumatic growth)….is it caught/borrowed/shared/taught? If any of the above, isn’t this worth pursuing? Thanks, ADPE…Good to see you here!

    • #20
    • May 5, 2015, at 10:34 PM PDT
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  21. Tonguetied Fred Member

    Blaming the military’s Toxic Leadership for the suicide of a veteran who, by definition, is no longer under the leadership of anyone in the military makes no real sense. Many younger veterans are veterans because they decided they had enough of dealing with the command BS and so got out from under bad leadership.

    Now if you are talking about suicide among those on active duty, blaming Toxic Leadership is much more reasonable.

    • #21
    • May 8, 2015, at 7:44 AM PDT
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