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Veteran and soldier suicide rates increase

Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07


Roger Zhang -- THE BATTALION

Suicide is a leading cause of non-combat deaths many stem from post traumatic stress disorder.

The unseen wounds of war of America’s military and veterans are creating an escalating number of deaths by suicide. Their souls are wounded from horrors they witness and relive over and over.

Suicide is a leading cause of non-combat deaths and accounts for nearly one in three non-hostile Army fatalities.

In the first 155 days of the year, there were 154 deaths by suicide for active duty troops, which is about 50 percent more than the amount of U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.

In the same time period for 2011, there were 130 suicides. Eighty of the suicides for 2012 have been in the Army.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said there is a way to lower the number of military and civilian deaths by suicide.

Suicide prevention is a leadership responsibility, according to Panetta. Leaders throughout the chain of command must encourage individuals to reach out for help when needed.

Also as a military leader, it is important to educate yourself and your subordinates about suicide prevention, according to war veteran and Army ROTC Executive Officer Luis Urbina.

“We give classes for those with potential for suicide,” said Urbina. “Those who show certain characteristics of pain, we make sure they seek medical help.”

Those in active duty feel the pain of losing a
companion this way. A suicide in a military unit can lower the moral of the rest of the troops.

“It makes us concerned for others,” said Urbina. “It saddens you. We all take it personal, they’re our buddies.”

During military training, troops can be prepared to withstand harsh treatment as a prisoner of war, but it’s difficult to be prepared for the mental aspect, said Heather Sterling, a freshman wildlife and fisheries science major and former member of the Corps of Cadets.

“It’s one thing to go through all that you have to experience while overseas,” said Sterling. “But it’s hard to relive it over and over. Some people may think the only way out of it is to take their lives.”

Although the reasons for military suicide are not completely understood, many of the military members who take their lives with suicide experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event.

This can cause one to feel afraid or feel that they have no control over what is happening.

Symptoms of PTSD include distressing recollections, flashbacks of combat, nightmares, anxious or fearful feelings, feeling disconnected from the world around you and things that happen to you, and feeling emotionally and physically numb.

Although many military personnel and veterans have these symptoms, they don’t realize that it is a problem. Those feelings become the new normal, said Mark Stevens at the Veterans Crisis Line.

For those who join the military right out of high school, time in active duty can be overwhelming because they haven’t had time to grow up.

 “Some don’t have experiences to compare to which makes what they experience overseas even more significant,” said Stevens.

For a veteran returning home, it may not always be a smooth transition.

“While they are away, their families adopt new routines and once they return they have to try to find a way to fit back into the lives of their loved ones,” said Stevens. “Other times they are expected to pick up right where they had left off.”

As a returning veteran it may be hard to get back in touch with a previous role of being a parent or spouse. They lose their previous skill set because they are used to taking care of just their selves.

As service men and women return home they also lose a sense of camaraderie. Despite coming home to family and friends, they lose their peers who have experienced what they have and don’t have anyone to talk to who truly understands what they went through.

There are ways to get help for veterans and active duty military personnel who have PTSD.

Information is readily available at the website for the National Center for PTSD at

On this website are testimonials from veterans with who have experienced PTSD. They share about their time returning home, how they realized they had PTSD, how they overcame it with treatment, and advice for those who still suffer from it.

Getting help can point a troubled veteran in the right direction, but many of them say is a sign of weakness.

Treatments that have been effective for PTSD include Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy.

Cognitive Processing Therapy teaches one how to identify trauma-related thoughts and change them so they are more accurate and cause less distress, while in Prolonged Exposure Therapy one talks about trauma over and over until the memories no longer upset the individual.

Veterans at Texas A&M University can also receive assistance with adjusting back to college life through the Veterans Services Offices.

At the Veterans Services Offices students can talk with mentors, receive counseling, and gain insight into joining a branch of the ROTC.


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