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Maya Alleruzzo/AP

Army Suicides Sharply Increase

February 06, 2009 12:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Despite the popularity of the VA's suicide hotline, the number of army suicides was nearly six times higher last month than in January 2008.

Are Repeat Tours to Blame?

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The suicide hotline was fielding about 250 calls per day in July 2008, but the army saw "a stunning number of suicides" last month, according to the Associated Press. There were 24 suspected army suicides in January 2009, compared with just four in January 2008, which may have resulted from soldiers' "repeated tours of duty" in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

In July, a year into the suicide hotline's existence, it was fielding about 250 calls per day, reportedly helping to avert more than 1,200 suicides. The hotline—a joint program between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—has cost the VA about $2.9 million so far. “One-third of the 40 specially trained counselors are veterans themselves,” reports the Associated Press.

The news of the hotline’s frequent utility coincided with a report in the Army Times revealing the results of three recent studies on the causes and effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. One study showed that traumatic brain injuries to soldiers might increase their likelihood of developing PTSD. Another found that stress debriefings after traumatic events had no effect on the occurrence of PTSD later on, but a third study indicated that group therapy had a positive effect on troops.

The VA has been trying to address the surge in mental health problems experienced by soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In April, a Rand Corp. survey found that one-fifth of the soldiers who have served in those countries, or about 300,000 people, have reported mental health problems. Only about half of them have pursued treatment.

In response to such data, last month the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed a bill in June permitting the VA to use paid advertising to promote its efforts. The VA began a campaign on July 21 to publicize its hotline. The campaign includes a “series of bus advertisements as well as more than 300 ads inside Washington, D.C., commuter trains and at metro train stations,” according to CBS News. If the campaign is successful, the VA will expand it throughout the country.

In May, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that the military health care system had failed vets at times, and said he would instate changes.

Background: Military vets face mental health problems

Opinion & Analysis: "Returning troops need full mental health services"

Related Topics: Video game helps soldiers cope; rural health services for vets

Reference: Mental health guide

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