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February 3, 2013

Counting the deaths:Military suicides on the rise

Suicides by military personnel were almost one per day in 2012

(Continued)

Returning soldiers face a litany of high-stress issues, from multiple tours of duty to worrying about family back home to denial of the need for treatment to difficulty finding a civilian job.

Military personnel have served multiple tours since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Campbell said most wars in the past asked for a single tour of duty, but current service members and reservists routinely have been deployed multiple times.

“They’d either return to normal duty and training, or leave the service. That is a huge difference,” she said.

At the same time, the execution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on the National Guard and Reserves, units whose members are more likely to have families than younger enlistees. That has created stress among both veterans and their families during deployment.

Returning veterans can have trouble translating their military skills into a civilian job, and can be unemployed for long periods of time, adding another layer of stress.

“At the state level we’re spending a lot of time trying to match up the skills they’re bringing with them to gain employment,” Campbell said. “But it’s not an easy task.”

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, said she has introduced bills to train college counselors to recognize PTSD and to require reporting from the VA on mental health vacancies. She said the suicide rate is “staggering.”

“Over the past few years, the Department of Defense has instituted a series of programs and services geared towards preventing military suicides, but a recent study showed inconsistencies among the services in the programs provided,” Tsongas said. “Like the critical matter of sexual assault in the military, suicides are reflective of a military culture that is in need of change. Programs and services must be instituted in addition to working to show that seeking help is not a weakness and working to reduce the stigma of asking for help.”

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