For many veterans, the ultimate defeat
On a warm summer afternoon in Champion, Ohio, Michael Ecker, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, called out to his father from a leafy spot in their backyard. Then, as the two stood steps apart, Michael saluted, raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
"His eyes rolled back," his father, Matt, said softly as he recounted the 2009 suicide. "There was just nothing I could do." Weeks before he killed himself, Michael received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs accusing him of "over-reporting" the extent of his psychiatric problems.
It was the culmination of a long struggle that Ecker, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury related to his service, had waged since returning home from the war to try to hold down a steady job, obtain VA disability benefits and resume a life as close to normal as possible.
"I've often thought about finding that doctor and saying, ‘Over-reporting?!' and giving him the death certificate," Matt Ecker said. About once every half hour in America, a veteran within the VA healthcare system tries to commit suicide, according to VA figures for fiscal year 2011.
President Barack Obama singled out suicide prevention as a priority when he talked about veterans issues on the campaign trail in 2008. He once cited the case of an 89-year-old World War II veteran who took his life the day after complaining about his treatment by the VA.
"It is an outrage. It is a betrayal of the ideals that we ask our troops to risk their lives for," Obama told an audience in Charleston, West Virginia, on May 12, 2008. He reiterated those sentiments at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada, on Monday, saying he had told Pentagon chiefs and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, "We've got to do better. … This has to be all hands on deck."
In the nearly three years since Ecker's death, the Obama administration has expanded efforts to tackle suicide among veterans, some of which were initiated at the end of the Bush administration. It has hired more suicide prevention staff and enhanced tracking of high-risk patients. Other benefits meant to help veterans returning from war have been expanded, particularly educational benefits under the 2008 GI Bill.
Perhaps the most lauded part of the VA's ramped-up effort to combat suicide has been a hotline that has received more than half a million calls since it was created in 2007, including more than 20,000 rescues of suicidal veterans. More recently it launched an online chat service and text messaging.
The VA has sought to improve data collection, too, and the numbers appear troubling: In 2011 there were 17,754 suicide attempts -- about 48 a day -- up from 10,888 in 2009. That increase, the VA said, may largely reflect an improved tracking system put into place in 2010 and a growing number of patients treated at VA facilities.
The VA couldn't provide data on the number of suicides within the VA system after 2009, but the figures through that date show a broadly stable rate since 2003 that is higher than the national average. Outside the VA healthcare system, which has almost 9 million enrollees, the data becomes murky.
The VA has estimated that roughly 18 veterans nationwide kill themselves every day, but that number is based on limited data. Reuters conducted its own survey, contacting all 50 states but obtaining data for the 2005-to-2010 period from only 32 of them, accounting for about two-thirds of the U.S. veteran population.
In those states, veteran suicides increased from 4,801 to 5,017 over a five-year period in which, the VA believes, the U.S. veteran population declined slightly. While the data is imperfect -- the VA estimates the reliability of such figures at 78 percent to 90 percent -- the department said the numbers appeared broadly consistent with trends it has observed.
Read more » Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook 0 comments Links to this post Trauma linked to domestic attacks
One in eight soldiers has attacked someone after coming home from fighting, a new study shows. The Kings Centre for Military Health Research spoke to 13,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Army veterans and said they discovered a link between combat and trauma, and violence at home, often directed at their partners.
A third of the victims were someone in the family - often a wife or girlfriend, it was reported. Study author Dr Deirdre MacManus told the BBC: "The association between performing a combat role and being exposed to combat, and subsequent violence on return from deployment, is about two-fold.
"We also saw that soldiers who had seen more than one traumatic event were more likely to report being violent." Earlier this month ex-soldier Aaron Wilkinson, 24, was jailed for shooting his landlady dead, just months after he had returned from serving in Afghanistan with the Territorial Army.
Wilkinson, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress reaction by an Army doctor, killed Judith Garnett, 52, at her farm in Leeds. His condition developed into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but was not monitored or treated.
He admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was cleared of murder. Former Royal Engineer Lewis Mackay thinks screening for PTSD after a tour would solve the problem of troops being unable to admit they were not coping with stress.
He saw a search team commander lose both legs when he stepped on a home-made bomb in Afghanistan. Mr Mackay said that when he went home to his wife Emma, he came close to hitting her. "I had a very short temper," he told the BBC.
"I was punching doors and walls. I was very, very aggressive. "If Emma was doing something that I didn't think was right, I wanted to lash out. I had to try my hardest not to - by sitting on my hands or biting my fist."
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said: "There is no evidence that suggests domestic violence is a greater problem within the service community than in the civilian community. "MoD policy makes it clear the Armed Forces will not tolerate domestic violence.
"Service personnel who experience violence and service family members who are victims of violence have a wide range of sources of help and information. "This includes single-service welfare providers, unit welfare officers, families' federations and help-lines.
"The Government is absolutely committed to improving the mental health of our Armed Forces and veterans. "We are determined to make the mental health services our Armed Forces receive the best in the world.
"We are examining a number of ways to develop mental health support for the Armed Forces including the use of screening and surveillance techniques. "We will ensure that, whatever new measures are introduced, they are appropriate and beneficial for the individual and the Armed Forces as a whole."
By John Fahey
For more information on the issues involved with PTSD in the Military community check out Combat Stress: The Veterans Mental Health Society
and for our readers in the United States of America please look at the National Center for PTSD