US: 17 military veterans committing suicide per day, grossly exceeding the 2.4 killed daily in Iraq Print E-mail

New York, November 13 2007

Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans

A CBS News Investigation Uncovers A Suicide Rate For Veterans Twice That Of Other Americans

(CBS) They are the casualties of wars you don’t often hear about - soldiers who die of self-inflicted wounds. Little is known about the true scope of suicides among those who have served in the military.

But a five-month CBS News investigation discovered data that shows a startling rate of suicide, what some call a hidden epidemic, Chief Investigative Reporter Armen Keteyian reports exclusively. Watch HERE

“I just felt like this silent scream inside of me,” said Jessica Harrell, the sister of a soldier who took his own life.

"I opened up the door and there he was," recalled Mike Bowman, the father of an Army reservist.

"I saw the hose double looped around his neck,” said Kevin Lucey, another military father.

"He was gone,” said Mia Sagahon, whose soldier boyfriend committed suicide.

Keteyian spoke with the families of five former soldiers who each served in Iraq - only to die battling an enemy they could not conquer. Their loved ones are now speaking out in their names.

They survived the hell that's Iraq and then they come home only to lose their life.

Twenty-three-year-old Marine Reservist Jeff Lucey hanged himself with a garden hose in the cellar of this parents’ home - where his father, Kevin, found him.

"There's a crisis going on and people are just turning the other way,” Kevin Lucey said.

Kim and Mike Bowman’s son Tim was an Army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road.

"His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn't there anymore," Kim Bowman said.

Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim shot himself. He was 23.

Diana Henderson’s son, Derek, served three tours of duty in Iraq. He died jumping off a bridge at 27.

"Going to that morgue and seeing my baby ... my life will never be the same," she said.

Beyond the individual loss, it turns out little information exists about how widespread suicides are among these who have served in the military. There have been some studies, but no one has ever counted the numbers nationwide.

"Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total," Bowman said.

Why do the families think that is?

"Because they don't want the true numbers of casualties to really be known," Lucey said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

"If you're just looking at the overall number of veterans themselves who've committed suicide, we have not been able to get the numbers,” Murray said.

CBS News’ investigative unit wanted the numbers, so it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense asking for the numbers of suicides among all service members for the past 12 years.

Four months later, they sent CBS News a document, showing that between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides. That’s 188 last year alone. But these numbers included only “active duty” soldiers.

CBS News went to the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Dr. Ira Katz is head of mental health.

"There is no epidemic in suicide in the VA, but suicide is a major problem," he said.

Why hasn't the VA done a national study seeking national data on how many veterans have committed suicide in this country?

"That research is ongoing,” he said.

So CBS News did an investigation - asking all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records, for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. Forty-five states sent what turned out to be a mountain of information.

And what it revealed was stunning.

In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)

"Wow! Those are devastating," said Paul Sullivan, a former VA analyst who is now an advocate for veterans rights from the group Veterans For Common Sense.

"Those numbers clearly show an epidemic of mental health problems," he said.

“We are determined to decrease veteran suicides," Dr. Katz said.

“One hundred and twenty a week. Is that a problem?” Keteyian asked.

“You bet it’s a problem,” he said.

Is it an epidemic?

“Suicide in America is an epidemic, and that includes veterans,” Katz said.

Sen. Murray said the numbers CBS News uncovered are significant: “These statistics tell me we've really failed people that served our country."

Do these numbers serve as a wake-up call for this country?

“If these numbers don't wake up this country, nothing will,” she said. “We each have a responsibility to the men and women who serve us aren't lost when they come home."

An update: The chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, responded to the CBS News story Tuesday.

“The report that the rate of suicide among veterans is double that of the general population is deeply troubling and simply unacceptable. I am especially concerned that so many young veterans appear to be taking their own lives. For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed."

November 14 2007

Vets' Suicide Rate "Stunning"

Armen Keteyian: Analysis Reveals What Some Are Calling "Hidden Epidemic"

Families discuss losing veterans to suicide, with Armen Keteyian (CBS/The Early Show)

Veterans' Suicide Risk

After witnessing the carnage and bloodshed of war, many veterans return home with mental problems that place them at high risk of suicide. Armen Keteyian reports.

(CBS) Some of America's 25 million veterans face their biggest fight when they return home from the battlefield -- when they take on mental illness.

And, a CBS News analysis reveals they lose that battle, and take their own lives, at a clip described by various experts as "stunning" and "alarming," according to Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian. One called it a "hidden epidemic."

He says no one had ever counted just how many suicides there are nationwide among those who had served in the military -- until now.

The five-month CBS News probe, based upon a detailed analysis of data obtained from death records from 2004 and 2005, found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non-vets.

A recent Veteran Affairs Department estimate says some 5,000 ex-servicemen and women will commit suicide this year, largely as a result of mental health issues, and Keteyian says, "Our numbers are much higher than that, overall."

He says the numbers in the CBS News study shocked everyone from Sen. Patty Murray (D, Wash.) to veterans' rights advocate Paul Sullivan.

Murray told Keteyian, "That's a lot of young men and women who've gone to fight for us, and come home and found themselves that lost."

Said Sullivan, "This is pulling the fire alarm to say our veterans need help now."

Staff Sgt. Justin Reyes spent a violent year serving in Iraq.

"The war didn't end foe him when he came home," says his mother, Jean Willis. "I think he was being tormented and tortured by his experiences."

Medical records show Reyes suffered severe psychological trauma after witnessing "multiple dead" and having to "sort through badly mutilated bodies," Keteyian reports. Earlier this year, a month after separating from the Army, Reyes hanged himself with a cord in his apartment. He was 26.

Willis and members of four other families recently sat down together to talk to Keteyian about losing loved ones, all veterans of Iraq, to suicide.

"Was their any sense that they were having problems at all?" Keteyian asked.

"I said, 'What's the matter, Tim?' " Kim Bowman replied. "I said, 'Don't you want to come home?' And he said, 'I'm not sure.' He said, 'Everything's changed.' "

Crying, Bowman added, "He said, 'I'm not the same person anymore."

Mia Sagahon's boyfriend, Walter, shot himself at 27, about a year-and-a-half after coming back from Iraq.

A weeping Sagahon remarked, "I just didn't realize -- that it could... I didn't think he was thinking about killing himself. Otherwise, I would have taken him wherever he needed to go."

Joyce Lucey observed, "I think that's what families are left with -- the guilt about what could have been done, and what we should have done."

"Guilt and anger," Mike Bowman said.

 London ~~ November 15, 2007

America suffers an epidemic of suicides among traumatised army veterans

Tom Baldwin in Washington

More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq, it was claimed yesterday.

At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide.

Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 - an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website:

The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic” – often linked to post-traumatic stress.

CBS News claimed that the figures represented the first attempt to conduct a nationwide count of veteran suicides. The tally was reached by collating suicide data from individual states for both veterans and the general population from 1995.

The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as suggesting that the military was covering up the scale of the problem. “Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total,” Mike Bowman said. “They don’t want the true numbers of casualties to really be known.”

Mr Bowman’s son, Tim, was an army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road. “His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Kim Bowman. Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim committed suicide.

A separate study published last week shows that US military veterans make up one in four homeless people in America, even though they represent just 11 per cent of the general adult population, and younger soldiers are already trickling into shelters and soup kitchens after completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless, at least 1,500 ex-servicemen from the present wars have already been identified.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. Data from 2005 estimated that 194,254 homeless people on any given night were veterans.

Daniel Akaka, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said: “For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed.”

The plight of US veterans is a matter of acute sensitivity for the Bush Administration which has set great store by standing up for – and support from – US troops. This year General Kevin Kiley, the US Army’s Surgeon General, was among senior military officials dismissed for his role in the mistreatment of wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Newspaper revelations about conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington became a lightning rod for criticism of the war in general. The outpatient clinic was described as squalid and rat-infested; a maze of red tape left many outpatients – often with severe brain injuries – wandering the corridors without help.