A new study has confirmed that Army soldiers who are young, new to service, and have never deployed are most at risk for suicide.
The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry has released a new analysis of suicide attempts by Army soldiers which found that those most at risk include troops who have never been deployed. The study also found troops in their second month of military service were at risk of suicide attempts. There were also risks of suicide attempts for soldiers who had deployed.
According to the study, those who deployed were at highest risk for suicide attempts in the sixth month of a first deployment, and also five months after returning home from any deployment.
Researcher Dr. Robert Ursano, who chairs the psychiatry department at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said the results indicate that the risk is associated with transition.
“The ‘never deployed’ group is highly weighted by people in their first years of service. We are talking about the stresses of early career, when they have finished basic training and are beginning preparations for deployment,” Ursano said.
Urano said the researchers were looking to understand the factors that contribute to suicide in order to develop prevention programs. To do this the researchers studied medical records of more than 163,000 enlisted service members, including 9,650 who attempted suicide. The team found that nearly 70 percent of soldiers who tried to kill themselves were under the age of 30. Just over 86 percent of the attempts were male soldiers. Around 40 percent of enlisted soldiers who had never deployed accounted for 60 percent of the suicide attempts.
“Deployment is not the only part of the story. It’s an important part but not the only part,” Ursano told Military Times. “Part of our goal is to understand the who, when and where of suicide risk and then we can better develop interventions.”
The JAMA Psychiatry study did not attempt to explain the reasons for the suicide attempts. Urano said the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers will investigate the causes. The study did find that most who killed themselves were likely too old to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
This latest study is likely to continue the debate around veterans suicides and how exactly the U.S. government can help treat and prevent the conditions which lead to suicide attempts. The Times reports that suicides among active duty personnel have remained “steady,” dropping from 321 in 2012 to 266 in 2015.
A February 2015 study by the journal Annals of Epidemiology also found that veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the US general population. However, deployment to the Iraq or Afghanistan war, by itself, was not associated with the excess suicide risk, a sentiment echoed by the JAMA study.
In recent years Americans have become familiar with a statistic that says that veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars commit suicide at a rate of about 22 per day. This number is based on a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, Derek Smolenski, a Defense Department epidemiologist and statistician, disagrees with this number, stating that the rate is closer to one suicide per day.
Regardless of the true rate of suicides and suicide attempts is is obvious that the U.S. military has a problem. Veterans are willing to take their own lives even before they deploy to battles which may lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other disabilities. This in turn leads to more dependence on the U.S. government. In May 2012, AP said America’s vets “are filing for disability benefits at (a) historic rate.” They’re the “most medically, mentally troubled generation in US history.”
All of these studies highlight an unfortunate side of war that is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to ignore. Not only are the endless wars of aggression causing blowback leading to a rise in anti-American sentiment, but the actions of the U.S. government are hurting our own people who believe they are fighting for something just and moral. Rather than spending this Memorial Day cooking barbecue and waving flags, maybe it’s time Americans actually “support the troops” by educating the public about the dangers of military life and the lies which lead us to war in the first place.
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