President Obama signed into law the long delayed Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The bill had been passed unanimously in Congress, but only after Tom Coburn, former U.S. senator from Oklahoma, who had single-handedly prevented it from going forward—claiming the $22 million price tag was not offset by cuts in other programs—retired. According to the White House, the act will require annual third-party evaluations of VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs, create a website for veterans about mental health services available from the VA, and require the VA to collaborate on suicide prevention with not-for-profit mental health organizations.
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The act, named for a marine who in 2011 at age 28 committed suicide, provides, among other services, better access to mental health resources for veterans.
Suicide among active-duty military members was down in 2013, but only slightly compared with 2012, according to the DoD’s annual Suicide Event Report (DoDSER). As of June 30, 2014, 259 active-component service members and 220 U.S. Reserve and National Guard service members had committed suicide. That’s 18.7% per 100,000 for active-duty, 23.4% for Reserve, and 28.9% for National Guard service members.
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The service members who committed suicide were most likely to be male, white, aged < 30 years, junior enlisted, and educated through high school. Firearms and hanging were the most common methods of suicide, although drugs (particularly antidepressants) and alcohol were most often implicated in suicide attempts. Mood and adjustment disorders were the most common behavioral health diagnoses among people who committed suicide. Mood and anxiety disorders were most common among those who attempted suicide. A failed relationship, primarily intimate, was the most common stressor. Most service members who committed suicide had been deployed, as had about 50% of those who attempted suicide.
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“One suicide among our ranks is too many,” said Jackie Garrick, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office. “Suicide is complex, and the better we understand these events in our community, the better we will be able to assist service members in crisis. We consider any measure that saves a life as one worth taking.”
Since 2008, the DoDSER program has standardized suicide surveillance across the services. Active suicide prevention efforts include suicide awareness training for service members and their families. A list of warning signs, such as frequent, dramatic mood changes and feelings of failure, is available at http://www.suicideoutreach.org/AboutSuicide/warning_signs.htm.