Vets commit suicide at two or three times the rate of civilians

By William K. Alcorn


With only 22 states reporting, 22 veterans and one active-duty military person commit suicide every day.

“Burdened with the stigma associated with mental-health issues and the military ‘shame’ surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], they instead turn to suicide as their only option to relieve suffering,” said leaders of a workshop, “Supporting Veterans and Their Families: Suicide Risk & Prevention and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Leading the workshop Tuesday for mental-health care and social-worker professionals were Amber Stiles-Bodnar, a local licensed professional clinical counselor, and Joseph P. Pecorelli, Navy clinical psychologist.

Veterans commit suicide at double and sometimes triple the rates of civilians, and neither the U.S. Department of Defense nor the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tracks suicides among military families because they are not considered casualties of war.

“That is unsettling,” said Pecorelli, who spent 26 years in the Navy, including four years during the Vietnam War era and four years as an officer.

“If there is one thing I hope people get from the workshop is a better understanding of what’s going on with military members and their families. The suicide rate is really significant,” he said.

Pecorelli and Stiles-Bodnar urged the 120 health care professionals at the meeting to be aware of the symptoms of PTSD and potential suicide.

Factors contributing to the higher rate of suicide include: hero status and having a hard time living up to that status, the stigma in the military of asking for help, anticipating their own death, killing and survivor guilt when someone else is killed.

Exposure to artillery fire, being shot at, firing at the enemy, seeing dead bodies or remains, being attacked or ambushed, knowing a military member injured or killed, seeing dead or injured Americans and seeing injured women and /or children and being unable to help are other risk factors.

Other factors occur when the military member comes home.

While they were gone, there was a shift in family responsibilities, and they feel they no longer have a role, Stiles-Bodnar said.

The family of a deployed soldier also has difficult issues to face, Pecorelli said.

The family has to cope with the soldier’s absence, sometimes at short notice, and there can be financial issues and problems with children.

“Studies indicate children [age] 11-17 suffered with emotional and behavioral issues three to four times higher than the general populations, specifically anxiety,” Pecorelli said.

When service members come home, they may have changed, but the family wants them back the way they were.

The family’s expectations are not met, and the service member suffers and may turn to suicide. Families may not know where to turn, Pecorelli and Bodnar said.

Locally, veterans and their families can seek help by calling Help Hotline Crisis Center at 330-747-2696, the National Suicide Prevention toll-free number at 800-427-3606, and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a National Suicide Prevention toll-free hotline number: 800-273-8255, press 1 for veterans.

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