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Four Theories About the High Rate of Veteran Suicides

Writing recently in The Washington Post, military author Thomas E. Ricks attempted to answer why so many veterans continue to take their own lives at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts. Relating several anecdotes about military acquaintances who committed suicide, he notes that the suicide rate for veterans has increased 35 percent since 2001. He then offers four theories to account for the escalation of military and veteran suicides:

  • A lost war — The sense that it was all for naught could be a contributing factor, but Ricks finds this unpersuasive. We have to agree; Vietnam vets served in what many called “our nation’s first lost war,” but there was not a similar spike in suicides in the 1970s.
  • Death by rotation — Repeated deployments like those in Iraq and Afghanistan may exhaust service members until they feel they’ve given all they can in this life. But, if this were true, we have to question why there aren’t more desertions, more refusals to report for duty, and more flights to Canada. Also, why does suicide continue to be a problem after discharge from service?
  • Brain injury — Ricks notes the use of IEDs in contemporary combat and theorizes that “the human brain can, at best, withstand only one or two nearby explosions and cannot heal the deep damage inflicted by repeated blasts.” Here, we must note that the trench warfare of WWI and heavy bombardments of WWII exposed troops to repeated blasts, resulting in “shell shock.” Yet, suicide following those wars was not the epidemic problem it is today.
  • More to come — Ricks wonders if “depressed vets are responding to the whiff of another possible war on the horizon, with North Korea.” Here again, we must point to past conflicts. Following WWII, there was a growing sense of the threat of Communist aggression, particularly after the Soviet Union developed an atomic weapon, and we seemed headed toward a cataclysmic nuclear confrontation. But was there a spike in suicide for WWII veterans during the Korean conflict, and did Korean War veterans take their own lives in greater numbers during the Vietnam War?

There is no denying that Americans are war weary, and that no one has a greater right to be weary than the service members who have borne the battle. But if the epidemic of suicide among veterans is a calamity, our national response to it has been a disgrace.

As dedicated veterans disability attorneys, Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban believes strongly in outreach to veterans, who may be suffering from mental health issues. We also believe in making health resources available. But the commitment to meet this problem head on and find a solution is still lacking.

And that may be the essence of the problem: veteran suicide may be one symptom of a larger dysfunction within a society that has stopped valuing human life. Mr. Ricks concludes his short essay with a simple statement of empathy: whatever the cause of veteran suicide, he says, “it worries me deeply.” He has every reason to be worried, and so do we.

The VA benefits attorneys at Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban have more than 200 years of combined legal experience. To learn how we can help with an appeal of denied disability benefits, call 866-866-VETS or contact our office online.

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