Suicide rate high for 9-11 veterans

The Psychology Times, Vol 3, No 3

11-11-11 Veterans Day Marks Pride, Gratitude and Concern

This month the country honors its veterans on a date that won’t come around again in this form for a thousand years, 11-11-11. The multiples of eleven punctuate the origins of the day, first called Armistice Day for the WWI ceasefire that went into effect on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. It was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

The Times talked with psychologists from around the state about the meaning of the day, their thoughts and memories, and also some of the ways they are helping the nation’s military.

Dr. Kelley Pears is a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/ Substance Use Disorders psychologist at the Alexandria VA Medical Center in Pineville, Louisiana. He explained to the Times that his group always celebrates the day. “We have a Veterans Day Parade every year on the hospital grounds,” he said. The veterans come out to see the parade and there are some servicemen and women in the parade, he said. “It is a special year, it being 11-11-11,” he noted and said that the celebration is often a small group. “Many of the veterans like it that way.”

For Dr. John Magee, Chief Psychologist at Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, the day takes on personal as well as professional meaning. “There is a Northwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Keithville – –maybe 15 miles out in the country–– that I will probably go to on 11/11,” he told the Times. “And, I will also visit my father’s gravesite as well,” he said. John’s father was a combat veteran who served in WWII.

Dr. Dana Boose, Clinical Psychologist at the Post Deployment Healthcare Clinic, Alexandria VA Medical Center, has many reasons to reflect on the meaning of the day.

“My father and numerous other family members and close friends of mine are veterans,” Dr. Boose told the Times. “Ever since my first practicum experience at the Dayton VA Medical Center I’ve been hooked—working in this setting with veterans has always been my preferred choice of employment.”

“This year, more than ever, Veterans Day has taken on an even greater personal significance,” she said. Dr Boose was recently commissioned as an Officer in the Louisiana Army National Guard. “I experience an immense amount of pride and honor,” she noted, “as I serve my state and country in this capacity, helping soldiers and veterans. I plan to spend Veterans Day as I do every other day, appreciating the freedoms afforded to us by the sacrifices our veterans have made and doing my part to help veterans in any way I can.”

Pride and gratitude are parts of this year’s celebration, but there are also growing concerns for the welfare for returning veterans.

“The 9/11 Generation” of Veterans

The group of veterans President Obama has named the “9/11 Generation,” now numbers over five million American men and women serving since 2001. Of this group, 1.6 million have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group is different than any other military group in the nation’s history.

In an October 2011 report, “The Military-Civilian Gap: War and Sacrifice in the Post–9/11 Era,” the PEW Research Center authors state, “America’s post– 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unique. Never before has this nation been engaged in conflicts for so long. And never before has it waged sustained warfare with so small a share of its population carrying the fight.”

The PEW researchers noted, “Only about one half of one percent of the U.S. population has been on active military duty at any given time during the past decade of sustained warfare.” And that there is a gap in understanding, with 84 percent of these veterans saying, “The public does not understand the problems faced by those in the military or their families.”

Almost half of the veterans (44 percent) report having problems in readjusting to civilian life, even thought they are “proud of their service” (96 percent), say that the experience has helped them get ahead in their lives (74 percent), to mature (93 percent), and build self-confidence (90 percent).

But almost half report family problems, and almost half report outbursts of anger, and one third say “there have been times where they felt they didn’t care about anything.” Whether diagnosed or not, 37 percent report they suffer from post- traumatic stress.

Modern technology has helped troops survive combat at the highest rate in history. But at the same time, the percentage of 9- 11 veterans returning home with serious physical and psychological injuries is higher than ever before.

High Suicide Rates

According to Army Times, 18 veterans commit suicide each day. The report noted that more troops have died from suicide over the last two years than have been killed by the enemy. In an August online report, CNN noted that army suicides reached a record high in July.

In a story in the Independent News, Pensacola, retired Marine Lt. Col Dave Glassman was quoted, “We have 18 veterans a day killing themselves–6,500 since the beginning of the year.” He said, “This is a tragedy of monumental proportions.”

The Army Times noted that these numbers come at a time when VA is strengthening its suicide prevention programs. The VA’s suicide hotline has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members.

Dr. John Magee told the Times, “One of my sad remembrances about Veterans Day was when a Veteran committed suicide on that day. Although he was not my client, a relative of his was and the relative was an inpatient in a PTSD program at the time of the suicide. Both were Vietnam Veterans.”

Dr. Magee continued adding, “The Veteran whom I was treating later helped another Veteran who was ready to leave a drug treatment program against medical advice.” Dr. Magee explained, “They were both were Marine Corps Vets which immediately formed a bond between them. I asked my client to just talk to his fellow Marine about not leaving the program.”

“I left them alone and trusted “the universe” to provide guidance,” Dr. Magee noted. “But I knew if anyone could reach that Veteran that day, it was my client and apparently not any staff member. I never asked my client what was said but the other Veteran did later share the conversation.”

“The bottom line,” explained Dr. Magee, “was that the Veteran remained in the program, has 8 years of sobriety and has moved to Shreveport to be closer to the VA Medical Center that helped him. Those are the success stories that keep me connected to something here that is hard to describe.”

Throughout the decades, psychologists who have served have come home to assist their fellow veterans in the VA. Dr. John Magee is one of them, having served in the US Air Force. “I have told people that I thought this VA “saved me” some years ago, because here is where I found a place that I am supported. Believe me, whatever I give back, I think I have received many times more,” he said.

“Give An Hour”

More psychologists are needed to assist those who are dealing the stresses of deployment, the trauma of combat and the pain of reintegration, said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist, in an APA Monitor report this spring. Dr. Van Dahlen founded the nonprofit organization “Give an Hour” program in 2005, and has organized a volunteer group of licensed mental health professionals who donate an hour of service a week to help veterans and their families

The network, which Van Dahlen wants to expand, complements services offered by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense providers.

“We are responding to the mental health needs of military families by asking mental health professionals nationwide to literally give an hour of their time each week to provide free mental health services to military personnel, their families, and their communities,” noted the Give An Hour website.

Dr. Leslie Higgins is a clinical psychologist practicing in Metairie, Louisiana, and she is a member of the Give An Hour network. Dr. Higgins explained to the Times that she sees a number of children whose fathers are deployed. She also said that one of the very helpful aspects of the Give An Hour program is that parents and siblings of the servicemen and women are free to receive the help.

“An important aspect of Give An Hour is to address the impact on the relatives, that don’t have access to mental health care,” Dr. Higgins said. “So many family members are struggling because of their child’s deployment. I’d encourage them to seek out this service, particularly because it’s at no cost to them.”

Dr. Andrew Thrasher, licensed psychologist from Sulphur, Louisiana, is a veteran and also a member of the Give An Hour program.

“This is a great organization for veterans and their families,” he told the Times. “As you can imagine, veterans returning home from war—suffering from traumatic brain injury, post- traumatic stress disorder, and a gamut of other mental health issues—need help readjusting to our society.”

“The service is provided pro bono and typically involves both the soldier and her/his family,” Dr. Thrasher noted. “This is a much needed service.”

“I got involved with Give an Hour a couple of years ago because I am a veteran and because my son is completing his Health Professions Scholarship Program scholarship and will be entering a military psychology internship next year,” he said.

Dr. Thrasher recommended that those interested in assisting veterans review Looking After the Soldier, Back Home and Damaged.

“This article is a documentation of one soldier and his family’s attempt to deal with the aftermath of the impact of his war experiences,” Dr. Thrasher noted. “This type of scenario is being duplicated daily by returning soldiers and they do indeed need our help.”

Dr. Thrasher noted the article is available from the New York Times at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/us/ looking-after-the-soldier-back-home- and-damaged.html?_r=2&hp.

The VA suicide prevention hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. Service members and veterans should push 1 for veterans’ services. To join the Give An Ho