Active Duty and Veteran Suicide Rate Increases. Are You At Risk?
Despite highly touted efforts to curb the suicide rate among active-duty service members and veterans, suicides remain high and the mental health watchdog Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) says the Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs need to fully investigate the role of prescription psychotropic drugs in these suicides. We reported on this issue months ago and it continues to be a problem.
CCHR says an investigation of this link should not be limited to those committing suicide by drug overdose but also determine whether those killing themselves by gunshot, hanging or by other methods were taking or withdrawing from psychotropic drugs at the time. It should be a focal part of the Veterans Affairs commitment of more than $186 million in 2018 to prevent suicide, CCHR adds.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon reported that 265 active-duty service members killed themselves in 2015, continuing a trend of unusually high suicide rates that have plagued the U.S. military for at least seven years. The number of suicides among troops was 145 in 2001 and began a steady increase until more than doubling to 321 in 2012.
Suicide—not combat—is the leading killer of U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East to fight Islamic State militants, the Pentagon statistics showed.
But according to CCHR and experts working with it, there are serious concerns about the relationship between military/veteran suicides and the increase of psychotropic drug prescriptions. According to Dr. Bart Billings, a retired Colonel and Medical Service Corps Officer in the U.S. Army, a surge of prescriptions since 2005 “coincides with the gradual increase, to this day, of suicides in the military. I feel there’s a direct relationship,” Billings told CNS News.
In 2014, CCHR presented evidence of this to the U.S. Senate’s Veteran Affairs Committee calling, then, for an inquiry into the potential violence- and suicide-inducing effects of prescribed psychiatric drugs.
The situation has not changed, with it being reported in March this year that the Defense Suicide Prevention Office says that most who die by suicide in the military are younger than 30. About 68 percent die by the use of firearms, and almost 25 percent by hanging.
In October 2016, The Pharmaceutical Journal reported that even healthy adults who are taking certain antidepressants have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and violent behavior, according to the results of a systematic review. “While it is now generally accepted that antidepressants increase the risk of suicide and violence in children and adolescents (although many psychiatrists still deny this), most people believe that these drugs are not dangerous for adults. This is a potentially lethal misconception,” warned the researchers, based at the Nordic Cochrane Centre and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
On May 25, 2017, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) introduced H.R.2652, the Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act of 2017 into Congress. This calls for a thorough and independent review of all suicides, violent deaths, and accidental deaths during a five-year period among veterans who received treatment furnished by the Department of Veteran Affairs during the five years leading up to their deaths. The review would be done by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine under an agreement with the VA.
CCHR encourages anyone whose family member is in the military, or who is a veteran, to consult a medical doctor if there are concerns about psychotropic prescription practices and also report any abuse to CCHR. As a nonprofit, CCHR relies on memberships and donations to carry out its mission and actions to educate others about psychotropic drug use. It produced a public benefit documentary for the Armed Forces, veterans and families, The Hidden Enemy.