Depressed veterans are more likely to commit suicide if they are young, white, male, abuse substances or if they aren’t diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or a service-related disability, according to a recent University study.
The study, released last week, examines 800,000 military veterans of all ages who were diagnosed with depression in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system between 1999 and 2004. Of the depressed veterans, 1,683 – 0.21 percent of the subjects – committed suicide during the study period.
Veterans are already twice as likely as the general population to commit suicide.
Kara Zivin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University and a Department of Veterans Affairs researcher, said individuals with PTSD or a service-related disability have lower suicide rates because they are more likely to already be receiving treatment.
The study shows that many suicide risk factors – such as old age – that affect the general population are not nearly as strong indicators for veterans.
Zivin said the Department of Veteran Affairs-funded study sought to clarify the veteran-specific suicide risk factors in order to better serve the veteran community.
She said it reinforces the VA’s recent efforts – such as the development of a national suicide hotline with a specific subsection for veterans – to prevent suicide.
University spokeswoman Linda Green said Counseling and Psychological Services plans to read the study because it will inform them “about the issues that are affecting students returning from overseas.”
She said once the study is read, they plan on talking about what outreach, if any, is necessary.
MBA student Sherman Powell, of the war in Iraq, said the department has offered him group therapy sessions and counseling.
“If I needed assistance in those areas, I could go and get it,” he said.
But LSA sophomore Tim Miklos, who served in the Marines for eight years, said the only things he has received from the department are his GI Bill payments for tuition.
“You almost have to be lucky to find things out,” he said. “They don’t really inform you of what’s available for you as a prior service member at the VA Hospital.”
Miklos said that people make a differentiation between people who return from Iraq and veterans from other wars.
“People who never served in Iraq don’t get the type of help or respect that combat veterans do get,” Miklos said. “They might feel their services weren’t as worthy, and that might make them feel depressed.”
Powell said the higher suicide rate among veterans could be attributed to the alienation that many veterans encounter upon their return home.
“When you’re in combat, you learn how to move down the street a certain way, you learn to watch the rooftops, you learn how to deal with crowds and traffic in ways that are unique to a combat environment,” he said. “The longer you’ve been in that environment, the longer the adjustment takes.”
LSA junior Derek Blumke said that upon returning home from overseas, many veterans have trouble finding a purpose in civilian life.
“I went from working on attack airplanes – knowing that I had a purpose and that my job was helping save my fellow soldiers’ lives – to the classroom where I’d be sitting and thinking, ‘I’m wasting my time,’ ” said Blumke, who has formed a group to advocate veterans’ issues on campus.
A veteran’s guilt over a fellow soldier’s death may also lead to depression.
Powell, who served as a lieutenant in the Army, said the feeling was especially strong for officers who had lost soldiers under their command.
He said that a veteran might feel “a tremendous amount of guilt, a sense of second-guessing yourself and you wish it could have been you in some cases. That’s something everybody goes through. It’s not unusual.”