Newspaper Editorial: Suicide Risk is High for Veterans of All Eras

Statesman Journal (Oregon)

March 5, 2009 – Here is a tragic statistic: More Vietnam veterans died of suicide than were killed in action during that war.

And the risk of suicide remains high among veterans of all eras and conflicts. Each year, about 6,000 veterans in the U.S. take their own lives, said Jim Willis, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

In response, the ODVA has launched a campaign that urges veterans to have the courage to seek help, just as they showed courage on the battlefield.

Willis, a Vietnam veteran, has deep appreciation and compassion for his fellow veterans. He’s seen how warfare and the resulting injuries have changed over the years. He recognizes the difficulty that veterans — trained to be hyper-vigilant and reactive during deployments — can face in adjusting to “normal” civilian life.

Mental health is a concern throughout society, but veterans have specific risks: extended deployment, service in combat zones, extreme stress, illicit drug use or overuse of alcohol, financial hardship, chronic pain and service-connected injuries and military sexual trauma.

During 2000 to 2006, Oregon lost more than 1,000 veterans to suicide. Willis said suicide is the leading cause of death among male veterans ages 18 to 24 and the second-leading cause among veterans 25 to 44.

The ODVA has suicide-prevention materials available, and a national hot line has been established. Anyone — whether someone contemplating suicide or a concerned employer or friend — can call for assistance. The number is (800) 273-TALK.

On a per capita basis, Oregon ranks 13th in the nation in calls to the hot line, although the state ranks 37th for the size of its veteran population. That’s a good sign, that so many people have been willing to seek hope.

That’s a message to share with everyone: We don’t want to lose you.

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