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Military Suicide: Take 3

Four times as many troops and vets
have died by suicide as in combat

[20 Years of War: A Costs of War Study, Brown University]

Suicide Prevention: Some Facts and Simple Truths

Using data from the Brown University Cost of War Project, author Thomas Suitt of Boston University “estimates 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans of the post 9/11 wars have died by suicide, significantly more than the 7,057 service members killed in post-9/11 war operations.” Month after month, year after year, we learn that billions of dollars spent on suicide prevention might be more wisely targeted.

*A focus on preventing veteran suicide began in 1958 with the opening of the first suicide prevention center in the United States. During the mid 1990s, a paradigm shift in addressing veteran suicide occurred with the development of the first of many national strategies.

*The annual number of deaths by suicide in the U.S. increased by 35% from 1999 to 2018, with an estimated 48,344 deaths in 2018.

*Veteran suicide rates are again on the rise.

*More than 6,000 Veterans, Guardsmen, active duty Service members, and Reservists die by suicide each year — more than were killed in action in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts from 2001 to 2014 combined.

*The VA reports that a veteran with a TBI is twice as likely to commit suicide.

*The overall Veteran suicide rate is 1.5 times higher and the female Veteran suicide rate is 2.2 times higher than the general population’s suicide rate after adjusting for age and sex.

*Veterans ages 18–34 had the highest suicide rate in 2017. The suicide rate for Veterans ages 18–34 increased by 76% from 2005 to 2017. The absolute number of suicides was highest among Veterans 55–74 years old.

*In 2017, 69% of veteran suicide deaths were due to a self-inflicted firearm injury, about 50% higher than the general population.

*About 70 percent of veterans who commit suicide do not use VA facilities. The recidivism rate for those who do use VA facilities in unreasonably high given the hundreds of thousands of “treated” veterans who remain disabled with a negative to degenerating quality of life.

*Service member suicide numbers have been increasing in the face of over a decade of Suicide Prevention Programs and billions of dollars in Suicide Prevention spending.

*In 2018, for example, 41.7% of service members who killed themselves had never deployed to a combat zone. Of course, no one seems to know or investigate whether they had, or acquired, brain injuries prior to enlistment or while in training.

*Preventing suicide is less difficult than predicting who will commit suicide.

*Preventing suicide one time is not the same thing as understanding the factors that led to suicidal ideation.

*Ignoring a fundamental cause of suicide is one reason the suicide rate, 20 per day, continues to climb. COVID only exacerbates the problem. A fundamental cause of suicide is brain injury. A brain injury is a wound to the brain. Untreated and/or misdiagnosed brain wounds do not get “better.” Symptoms may recede, but the underlying injury can fester for a long time, leading to behavioral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual breakdowns that can lead to violence and suicide.

*Executive Order 13861: President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS), is another national strategy to amplify and accelerate the progress in addressing the Veteran suicide epidemic in our nation.

*PREVENTS is an organizational, data-centric approach to what is fundamentally a medical set of problems. Better communication is good, but should not be a substitute for healing underlying physiological causes of suicidal ideation.

*For example, Step 3, Implementation Strategy Planning may be organizationally sound but is medically barren: “For each of the four areas of focus in the PREVENTS Roadmap (programs, policies, research, and communications), develop an execution plan that includes role specification, major tasks, timeline, security, and privacy safeguards, resource requirements, implementation support requirements (e.g., technical assistance), process and outcome evaluation plan, and risks and contingencies.”

*“Brain health” is mentioned one time in PREVENTS in the context of preventing suicide, and then only in the context of identifying research and programs. “Mental Illness”, frequently equated with suicidal ideation, is currently lumped under “Mental Health.” a psychological injury/problem, and infrequently seen as a result of a “physical injury” that can be healed.

*Veterans in the throes of suicidal ideation relentlessly talk about how hopeless they feel, how little they sleep, and how death can end their pain, both to themselves and to their families.

It is well documented that brain injury affects executive function and increases depression.

Depression is present in at least 50 percent of all suicides. While antidepressants are designed to decrease the symptoms of depression, they occasionally have the opposite effect and can increase suicidal thoughts and actions, especially in children and adolescents up to age 25.

*Depression and suicidal ideation are common effects of PTSD and TBI. Treating PTSD/TBI with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is proven to reduce depression and suicidal ideation, and allow patients to get off almost all their drugs.

*Current suicide prevention training advises “If you see something, say something.” Instructors should also advise: “If you have a brain injury, get Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Functional Medicine protocols to heal the wound to your brain.”

* To help prevent suicide, “Fix the Hard drive; the software will run better.” Put another way, the recidivism rate is extremely high for brained-injured veterans who do not get the benefit of brain-wound healing provided by Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Functional Medicine protocols. Palliating symptoms without fixing the brain-wound is not adequate medical care. Current protocols and standard of care at the NICoE, Intrepid Spirit Centers, and the myriad mental health clinics across DoD and the VA are inadequate for treating and healing brain wounds. They do not talk about brain wounding, they do not provide Informed Consent about alternative treatments like HBOT, and they continue to insist that more money spent on research will reverse the suicidal trends — despite two decades of experience to the contrary.

The information provided by does not constitute a medical recommendation. It is intended for informational purposes only, and no claims, either real or implied, are being made.