Female Veterans Killing Themselves in Unprecedented Numbers

“Staggering” and “obscenely high” were the terms one expert used to describe the rate of female veterans completing suicide, in a recent LA Times article. This is a trend my treatment center and I have been following for some time and are glad to find that researchers are finally bringing the hardships our returning veterans face to light.

Why do women veterans complete suicide so much more often than non-veteran females? The LA Times report gave several reasons. One is that women veterans are more likely to use a gun (than non-veterans) in their suicide attempt. This may be in part because they are trained with weapons and not squeamish about using them or because they have trained through the often-found female desire not to leave a mess for others to clean up. Second, female veterans who later kill themselves often have reported being sexually assaulted or raped by a fellow service member. The Pentagon estimates that 10% of women have been raped and 13% were subjected to unwanted sexual contact by others in the military. This high rate of sexual assault may play a role in suicide rates when combined with other traumatic factors. Experts at the VA explain these rates differently, looking to data on early childhood trauma among those who enlist to suggest their susceptibility to suicidal thoughts. Many who enlist in the military have troubled backgrounds. There are certainly multiple factors at play.

What the data makes clear is that both our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and other conflicts, require re-entry assistance immediately upon return from war and ongoing support for an extended period thereafter. Those services may or may not be best provided by the VA. In any case, there are quality PTSD and trauma treatment protocols that are available to both men and women who have served and these should be made immediately available to all veterans, whether the resources come from the VA or not. This isn’t a time to bicker about creating new programs, but a time to turn those most in need of help toward programs and therapies that already exist in communities across the nation.

It is a blemish on this nation to do so little to help our military veterans. They volunteered to be placed in harm’s way for our safety and welfare. It’s our turn to ensure that they receive the benefits which they earned through their service.