Suicide Rates High Among Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans

SPOKANE — A recent study is reporting that veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are more vulnerable to suicide than ever before with extended deployments and inadequate post-deployment care to blame.

One local Marine combat veteran knows the statistics all too well as he contemplated suicide before he decided to reach out for help.

Marine Ian Anderson got a hero’s welcome four years ago when he returned from the war in Iraq. He had been shot five times, mostly in his lower body, and the wounds left him with a permanent limp.

“Lost the ability to run, my favorite thing to do,” he said.

But that wasn’t the only thing he suffered from. Anderson was struggling to survive in the civilian world as a newly discharged Marine.

“I was let go, didn’t have a job, was scared, here’s this whole new world, in the military you have a lot of security,” he said.

With a shaky new start, he became depressed and tried to take his life once. It’s a subject he wasn’t too comfortable talking about. But he wasn’t shy about finally getting help. Anderson turned to the Veteran Outreach Center for help, but he also sees a counselor at the VA Hospital.

Like many veterans he was diagnosed with post-traumatic disorder. The diagnosis is usually linked to depression and suicidal thoughts are a symptom of depression.

Anderson isn’t alone.

Hundreds of young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan go through the same thing. New numbers show as many as 430 commit suicide every year after they leave the military.

These combat veterans are four times more likely to commit suicide than civilians who have never served in the military.

“So you have people under high levels of arousal and stress for entire duty tour, and this leads to depletion to neuro-transmitters you need to be healthy,” Dr. Paul Quinnett, President and CEO of the QPR Institute, said.

Dr. Quinnett said he’s been working with the Army providing suicide prevention training for the last two years. He is now expanding his online tutorial to include veterans. His prevention focuses on training friends and families because he believes they are the ones who need to be the first to reach out.

“To tell us when they’re not sleeping, not eating losing weight, playing with firearms and sending warning signs they are suicidal and then help those loved ones get them in care can’t count on veterans especially males to do that,” Dr. Quinnett said.

VAa hospitals, now recognizing the scope of the problem, have been stepping up their services.

Every VA Hospital in the country now has a suicide prevention coordinator. Spokane’s facility added one three months ago and they’ve also hired more mental health counselors and reopened the 24-hour emergency room.

Anderson applauds the change and the assistance he’s gotten since he got home. On Wednesday he went to Horizon Middle School where he and his friend Steve, a Vietnam veteran, talked about the importance of serving your country.

And after all he’s been through and knowing what he knows now, Anderson says he would still be proud to serve in the Marines.

If you or any other veteran you know needs help right now, here’s a number to call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).