Monday, October 01, 2012

Veterans suicides

The Dayton Daily News carries an Austin American-Statesman article on the Dept of Veterans Affairs failure to track the causes of veterans death.  Following a six-month investigation of the deaths of Texas veterans, the Austin American-Statesman notes these results:

■ More than one in three died from a drug overdose, a fatal combination of drugs, or suicide. Their median age at death was 28.
■ Nearly one in five died in a motor vehicle crash.
■ Among those with a primary diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, the numbers are even more disturbing: 80 percent died of overdose, suicide or a single vehicle crash. Only two of the 46 Texas veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with a PTSD diagnosis died of natural causes, according to the analysis.
■ The 345 Texas veterans identified by the VA as having died since coming home is equal to nearly two-thirds of the state’s casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that only includes veterans who have sought VA benefits, meaning the total number of deaths is likely much larger.

That is one in a series of reports fom the Austin American-Statesman.  The paper also offers "Suicide among veterans receiving less attention than active-duty deaths" which tells the story of Iraq War veteran Ray Rivas who took his own life on a day when his wife, Colleen Rivas, described him being in "good spirits" and notes:

An American-Statesman investigation into the deaths of 266  Texans who served during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars show that 45  committed suicide, making it the fourth-leading  cause of death behind illness, accidents and drug-related deaths. That percentage is more than four times higher than the general population: Suicide accounted for 3.6 percent  of all Texas deaths over the same period, compared with 16.9  percent of the veterans the newspaper studied.

Rivas o.d.ed "on sleeping pills in a parking lot."  Iraq War veteran Eric Sessions died on his motorcycle and is part of  the report entitled "After returning home, many veterans get into motor vehicle accidents" which finds, "Next to illness and disease,  motor vehicle accidents such as Sessions’ were the leading cause of death among the 266  Texas veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan whose histories were tracked by the American-Statesman. The motorcycle and car wrecks were responsible for 50  deaths, or 18.8 percent  of the total — more than suicides or prescription drug overdoses."  The paper also offers "Which veterans are at highest risk for suicide?"  The Military Suicide Research Consortium's Peter Gutierrez agrees that "relationship problems, legal problems, mental illness, depression" are the same in the civilian world and among service members and veterans but feels the civilian population is less likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.   Afghanistan War veteran KC Dobson's took her own life last year, "Her Army photos show a beaming, freckle-faced young woman in fatigues, her dark hair pulled back in a bun. But her smile masked what family members said was emotional and physical pain that dogged her throughout her deployment to Iraq and after her 2010 discharge."

Other reports by the paper are "Researches look into possible causes of current 'epidemic' of suicide and PTSD" and "Scores of recent Texas war veterans have died of overdoses, suicides and vehicle crashes, investigation finds" -- all articles share the byline "by American-Statesman Investigative Team."

From the June 27th snapshot:

Chair Patty Murray: The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 is sweeping legislation that improves how VA provides mental health care. I think it is fitting that we are here considering this legislation on National PTSD Awareness Day.  Over the past year, this Committee had repeatedly examined the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health crisis in our military and veterans populations.  We know our service members and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges multiple deployments, difficulty finding a job whenhome, and isolation in their communities.  Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how.  These are the challenges our service membes and veterans know too well. But even as they turn to us for help, we're losing the battle. Time and time again, we've lost service members and veterans to suicide. We are losing more service members to suicide than we are to combat.  Every 80 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life. On average this year, we have lost a service member to suicide once every day.  But while the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know there's a lot more that needs to be done.  We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care, ensuring proper diagnosis, and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments.  The Mental Health ACCESS Act would expand eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans.  It would require VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and create opportunities to train more veterans to provide peer services.  This bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.  This Committee has held multiple hearings on VA mental health care, and we heard repeatedly about the incredibly long wait times to get into care.  It's often only on the brink of crisis that a veteran seeks care.  If they are told "sorry, we are too busy to help you," we have lost the opportunity to help and that is not acceptable.  Without accurate measures, VA does not know the unmet needs.  Without a credible staffing model, VA cannot deploy its personnel and resources effectively.

If passed, that bill would be a law and would most likely help a number of veterans.  But them, maybe not.  Repeatedly, the issue of tracking veterans suicides has been raised in Congress.  Repeatedly, verbal promises have been made.  The Austin American-Statesman investigative series makes clear (repeatedly) that the VA is not tracking cause of death.  If they can spend the last three years promising Congress they will and not do so, who's to say they'd follow The Mental Health ACCESS Act were it to pass Congress?

In 2007, the VA Inspector General was recommending that a system for tracking suicides be implemented.  When they do bother to track, as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has noted earlier this year,  "The VA does not regularly release data on the number of veterans that commit suicide and there is almost no information about veteran suicide among the 47 percent of veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom who never interact with the VA. Thirty-seven percent of IAVA members who were surveyed in January of 2012 knew a fellow veteran who committed suicide. It is fundamental that the government find a way to track all veteran suicides in order to properly address the issue. Recently the VA has announced that it will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track veteran suicide in 48 states. However, it will take at least 2 years to aggregate that data."

Isaiah's latest The World Today Just Nuts "The 2,000 Mark" went up this morning.  Kat's "Kat's Korner: Heart Walkin' Good" went up this afternoon.  On this week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed include arrests on the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the Insane Clown Posses plans to sue the FBI, Texas police officer shoots dead a man in a wheelchair, the ACLU on the Cranston School Dept's gender stereotyping (guest ACLU attorney Steven Brown),  discrimination in Wisconsin Dept of Transportation (guest attorney Kayrn Rotke) and Lance Selfa joins the hosts to discuss his new book The Democrats: A Critical History.

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