According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project — established in 2010 to account for the loss of lives and taxpayer dollars spent on U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — an estimated 30,177 veterans and service members have killed themselves over the last nearly two decades, compared with 7,057 members of the military who have been killed in combat.
“The suicide rate of veterans overall and adjusted for age and sex is 1.5 times that of the general population,” the report reads. “This rate is likely a conservative one because, unlike earlier reports, the V.A. only counts veterans who were federally activated, leaving out Reservists and National Guardsmen who were not federally activated.”
The study points to a number of factors that may have contributed to the rise in suicides, including an increase in the use of improvised explosive devices and their association with traumatic brain injuries, exposure to trauma, military culture and training, the wide availability of guns, and stressors associated with returning to civilian life. Multiple deployments was also highlighted as a factor unique to service members post-September 11, 2001.
“Modern medical advances have also allowed service members to survive physical traumas and return to the frontlines for multiple deployments, even though the combination of multiple traumatic exposures, chronic pain, and lasting physical wounds is linked to suicidal behaviors,” reads the report. “The sheer length of the war has kept service members in the fight longer, providing more opportunities for traumatic exposure.”
Thomas “Ben” Suitt III, who authored the report, said many service members don’t get the treatment they need — sometimes as a result of trying to hide their struggles — and the paper details how this makes them more vulnerable to suicidal behavior: “The U.S. government’s inability to address the suicide crisis is a significant cost of the U.S. post-9/11 wars, and the result is a mental health crisis among our veterans and service members with significant long-term consequences.”
As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we must reflect on the mental health cost of the Global War on Terror. The human cost for our veterans and service members far outweighs even the most crippling financial costs we have endured to send them to war. Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project, said policymakers in the U.S. “must examine and address those factors” which are leading greater numbers of service members and veterans to take their own lives.
“As we come closer to the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we must reflect on the mental health cost of the Global War on Terror,” the report reads. “The human cost for our veterans and service members far outweighs even the most crippling financial costs we have endured to send them to war.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com.