Saving soldiers from suicide

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LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) – We often hear about soldiers killed in combat, but what about those who take their own lives? One survey conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found 30 percent of service members have considered suicide. It’s a complex problem that's on the rise.

Corporal Michael Jernigan is proud of his service in Iraq, but it came at a price.

“I’m the first U.S. serviceman to lose both eyes in the global war on terror,” he told Ivanhoe.

His Humvee drove into a roadside bomb. He lost of his eyes, two fingers, damaged his hand and knee, and crushed his skull. He had 30 surgeries in one year.

“There were times that I laid in the hospital bed, and I wished that I would have died on the street in Iraq,” Jernigan explained.

He was able to bounce back, but many aren’t. Every day, 22 veterans kill themselves. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.

UCLA doctor, Patrick Link, said suicide rates went up for both deployed and non-deployed service members since 2004.

“A surprisingly large number of soldiers are coming into the army with psychiatric problems,” Patrick Link, MD, Psychiatrist, UCLA Dept. of Psychiatry, told Ivanhoe.

About one-in-four soldiers suffers from at least one psychiatric problem, and about one-third of attempted suicides are associated with mental disorders before joining the army. Other risk factors include being male, being white, a low rank, and a low education level. Dr. Link said better screening and support for managing stress are needed.

“Ideally, you would like to have people be so resilient to stress that it actually improves their lives instead of makes them worse,” he explained.

Jernigan co-founded a program called Paws for Patriots to help place service dogs with veterans. Now he helps the 22-kill initiative raise awareness about veteran suicide.

“We try to support them and empower them,” said Jernigan.

Even though he’s had his share of hard times, he said he wouldn’t change it.

“The whole thing, I’d do it all over again,” Jernigan said. “I really would.”

Suicide rates among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were roughly 30 per 100,000. Rates for civilian suicide in the same age and demographics were about 19 per 100,000. The study also found women have lower suicide rates than men in the army except during deployments.


BACKGROUND: Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. That is a suicide every 65 minutes. The figure released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February is based on the agency’s own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40 percent of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available. A recent analysis by News21, an investigative multimedia program for journalism students, found that the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000. The analysis of records from 48 states found that the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011, more than double the rate of increase for civilian suicide. Nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran, even though veterans make up about ten percent of the U.S. population, the News21 analysis found. (Source: and News21)

STUDY: HIGH SUICIDE RATES: Suicide rates soared among soldiers who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who never left the United States, according to the largest study ever conducted on suicide in the military. For the study, researchers observed records from nearly a million soldiers. "A simple explanation that war is hell and you send people to war and bad things happen to those people is an incomplete explanation," Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and lead author on the study looking at suicide rates, was quoted as saying. Among key findings:

• While suicide rates for soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009 to more than 30 per 100,000, the trend among those who never deployed nearly tripled to between 25- and 30-per-100,000.

• Rates for a civilian population of similar age and demographics remained steady at 19-per-100,000 during this time. The Army suicide rate surpassed it in 2008 and kept climbing.

• Researchers debunked theories that suicides were the result of two Army trends designed to recruit or retain people.

• Some of the same risk factors that predict suicide, like mental health problems, were also found to predict fatal accidents among soldiers.

• About one in four soldiers in the Army appear to suffer from at least one psychiatric disorder and one in ten have multiple disorders.

• Women have lower suicide rates than men in the Army except during deployment. (Source: