The Transition and the Rise in Veteran Suicides

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Abstract

Veteran suicide rates in the United States is a massive problem that does not look like it is going to slow down any time soon because of the recent combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At this time, there has not been a lot of research done to see if this problem of veteran suicide stems from PTSD from combat or if it is from other stressors that come with leaving the military after their service is completed. It is important to understand the problems this population in order to effectively treat the correct symptoms and problems. As social workers it is important to understand the issues that this population struggles with and be able to pin point the correct solution for the issues they are struggling with.

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“The Transition and the Rise in Veteran Suicides”

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Introduction

Veteran suicide is a massive problem in the United States of America, and other countries that have been involved with wars. The problem is that we do not know why military members come home, exit military service and commit suicide at rates higher then civilians with no military service. Understanding why veterans are committing suicide at an average of 22 a day have plagued this community and the Veterans Administration (VA) for years. The question that has not been looked at is whether the transition from military to civilian life after service may be the major stressor that makes veterans so depressed that they commit suicide. The military and VA do not do a good enough job when it comes to following up with military members after they leave service to check on their mental health.

Problem Statement

Veterans returning back from combat have a problem with PTSD and the stresses of combat, but is the suicide rate increasing at a larger rate because of combat or other factors? The problem is that not enough studies have been done when looking into suicides among veterans because of the lack of information that can be found after they commit suicide. Could the real problem that a veteran is struggling with and depressing him be, not understanding how to transition? Changes need to be made in order for this problem to change in the future especially during a time of war with no foreseeable end in sight. Young veterans regularly observe that the military does an extremely effective job of training them to operate within the military, and an extremely poor job of reversing that training or preparing them before sending them back into civilian life (Zogas, 2017). The problem with this is that most military members when they leave have not dealt with problems that regular civilians have already dealt with. For instance, for a military member that is leaving service he has to figure out how to get health care for his family and has never done this before. When exiting the military, they do not sit members down and teach them how to do this, they have to figure it out on their own. Now imagine you have to figure everything out on top of this like where are you going to eat, work, and live. All of these stresses begin to build up and lead someone to have a morphed look on life and its possible outcomes. Could these issues be the problems that are leading veterans to higher suicide rates?

Literature Review

Veteran health is something that this country spends millions of dollars on every year in order to treat injuries and illnesses that where incurred during active service for the United States. The study and tracking of veteran suicides did not become something of alarm until after the Vietnam conflict. The military found that suicides among veterans where happing at alarming rates that were higher than people that had no military service. With studies conducted by the VA and multiple other people, it was found that PTSD was more prevalent then thought. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that PTSD afflicted almost 31% of Vietnam veterans, 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11% of veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and 20% of Iraq War Veterans (Koven, 2017, p.502). These numbers are significantly larger than the 6.8% prevalence of PTSD among the lifetime of all adults (Koven, 2017, p.502). This shows that the evidence that PTSD is a larger problem in the veteran population than it is in the regular population showing that more studies need to be conducted to understand what can be done to treat the returning veterans.

PTSD from combat are not the only major stress events that happen to veterans in their lifetime coming from military service. Upon release from service, veterans suddenly find themselves adrift, unshackled from a comfortable and highly regulated environment. For some, the sudden casting adrift from an insular band of brothers is highly disruptive and may lead to suicidal tendencies (Koven, 2017, p.506). This statement is key in proving that not all stress is related to PTSD and combat, it gives the idea that just leaving the military is enough to drive someone to be so depressed that they could commit suicide. Suicide risks among male VA patients were 66% greater than for males in the general population. Compared with similarly aged women in the general population, female patients had approximately double the suicide risk were the results found in McCarthy, Kim, Ilgen, and Blow’s study (as cited in Koven, 2017, p.507).

The study also found after studying over a million combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan that the suicide rate among them was the highest after leaving the service, but within three years of discharge(Koven, 2017, p.508). This brings up the idea that they may not be getting the support they need prior to and after leaving the military. The current back log of the VA for veterans getting coverage and compensation after service consists of about 100,000 files which equals about 125 days (Shane III, 2018). Veterans are going months without the proper medical care or support they need during this time.

Searching for Reliable Data

I started my search for data by doing a search of EbscoHost in the George Williams College online library. I searched topics such as veteran suicide causes. When I started to get a large number of studies, I then narrowed my search using terms such as Veterans Administration and effects of combat and PTSD. With this information I started to look for trends in treatment that veterans were receiving before they committed suicide and if any studies where done on transitioning military members. I then started searching the Veterans Administrations websites and information to see what information was presented on the suicide problem. When finished I made sure that I only used the newest of information about veterans’ suicides and their civilian counterparts.

The articles used in this paper lay out the facts when it comes to the issues of PTSD and transition. Understand how both effect veterans will help people understand that the problem may not be related to just one issue. Combat veterans are a small population of military members and this is what needed to be emphasized by the articles. Understanding that not everyone deploys in the military is something that needs to be understood. Studies that discussed both different populations of veterans were important in this understanding of stress and how it’s effecting veterans during transition.

Methodology

The problem of veteran suicide is something that the Veterans Administration is trying to get a handle on, but the main problem that they have is the lapse in coverage a military member has when they leave service. This study will be multifaceted in its approach because of the lack of information on the topic of what causes veteran suicide. The first part of the study will be to conduct multiple surveys over the year before and after separation to find out exactly what the stresses are that are affecting the population. Information that will be asked on the first survey (year before discharge) is what challenges are veterans most afraid of when they get out and what can the military do to better help the veterans. The second survey will be conducted at discharge asking them their current frame of mind and how they plan to handle stress when they get out. The third survey will ask them about the main stresses that they encountered in the first year after leaving the military and what the military could have helped them with before they left service. Conducting this two-year study will give the military and the VA an idea of what is really happening to veterans when they leave and the mindset, they have during transition from start to finish.

After this study is done then changes can be made to the transition process. When the changes are done then the next round of surveys can be sent to new veterans that are in the two-year stage to see if the changes have made the stresses of transition better or worst. After the second round of surveys and changes have been implemented then you will be able to take the two different populations and compare numbers to find out if it is the stress of transitioning that is causing the suicides or if it is in fact solely PTSD issues in veterans.

The sample size for this study could be all transitioning military when they are on active duty, by conducting a survey through the military services. This survey could be part of the separation process making sure that all members conduct the first two surveys before leaving. The survey that will be conducted after exit will be the hardest to get responses from because they are no longer obligated to complete these by the military. To track progress through the entire process participants will use their Department of Defense Identification Number to complete the surveys. This way the collection process will be anonymous but also a way to track who has completed the entire two-year process and the surveys that coincide.

The cost of doing a study of this magnitude will vary depending on how the study is conducted. If the study is adapted by the military and the VA, the cost would be significantly lower than if it was taken on by a civilian entity to complete. This study, to get the amount of information that is needed would require the Department of Defense assist in the conduct of the study. A study like this would not get the results from military members without their support. Estimates currently state that 230,000-245,000 military members will transition out of the military each year (Zogas, 2017). A budget of $1,000,000 will be enough to conduct the study and get the surveys sent out and analyzed. This amount accounts for $0.50 per survey and $250,000 for the personnel to analyze the data after it is collected from both rounds of veterans during and after their transition from the military.

Conclusion

With the results of the surveys and the two different groups we would be able to see if the military is giving veterans all of the tools, they need for a smooth transition out of the military. It will also give quantitative data to the VA and military to tell them what is driving up the suicide rates among veterans. Understanding the population and what their needs are is key to them having the proper care and training to transition effectively. If the suicide rate is being driven by stressful transition and not PTSD then changes need to be made in how we treat these veterans. If a study of this magnitude is not conducted, then medical professionals will never have a true grasp on why veterans are committing suicides at such alarming rates. This study will also show if society as a whole is doing everything, they can to help the veteran’s transition when they leave service. Real gains to individuals and society will accrue when veterans begin to feel wanted, acquired gainful employment, and learn to cope with the daily demands of civilian life (Koven, 2017, p.510).

References

  1. Koven, S. G. (2017). PTSD and Suicides Among Veterans-Recent Findings. Public Integrity, 19(5), 500-512. Doi:10.1080/10999922.2016.1248881
  2. Shane III, L. (2018). Watchdog report: The VA benefits backlog is higher than officials say. Retrieved from https://www.militarytimes.com/news/2018/09/10/watchdog-report-the-va-benefits-backlog-is-higher-than-officials-say/
  3. Zogas, A. (2017) US Military Veterans’ Difficult Transitions Back to Civilian Life and the VA’s Response. Retrieved from https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Zogas_Veterans%27%20Transitions_CoW_2.1.17.pdf
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The Transition and The Rise in Veteran Suicides. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved July 2, 2022 , from
https://studydriver.com/transition-and-the-veteran-suicides/

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