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This story is about suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Efforts to prevent military and veteran suicides have been hampered by a lack of accurate data and an inability to understand the root cause of the problem, with a study showing that the suicide rate among veterans could be up 37% higher than the number reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“There’s no way to address veteran suicide without knowing what’s causing it, where it’s coming from, and the highest number,” said Jen Satterly, co-founder and CEO of the All Secure Foundation. , to Fox News Digital.
The All Secure Foundation has worked to help provide current and former service members who suffer from trauma and loss of resources with mental health counseling, visiting several military installations across the country and hosting events aimed at bringing down the annoying number of soldiers. suicides.
But their mission to fight for the men and women who fought for their country faces many obstacles, including a lack of understanding of the scale of the problem.
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This obstacle became more apparent after a recent study showed that the VA could underestimate veteran suicides by more than 30%, surprising new information for some but not surprising for Satterly and his colleagues.
“Part of my advocacy in this area of the veteran space has been trying to get accurate numbers and reports,” Satterly said. “There’s been a discrepancy in the numbers for years now, so it’s actually no surprise to us in our organization.”
While the oft-cited “22 a day” number has been widely publicized since the publication of a VA report on veteran suicides in 2014, Satterly pointed out that there are multiple flaws in the research. The number of overdoses was not counted in the statistics, while communication between different stakeholders was never streamlined to provide a full accounting.
“It’s very difficult,” Satterly said. “There is, as you can imagine, a level of privacy that families want to protect their loved ones. Often times I understand that a family might not want to come forward and say it was a death by suicide rather than saying it was an accidental overdose.”
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According to the authors of the study, dubbed Operation Deep Dive, there has also been a widespread failure to track former service members who have committed suicide years after serving.
“The difference in data is likely due to undercounting of FSM (former military) deaths and the greater specificity of demographics, military experience, and deceased death details available for Operation Deep. Dive,” the study says.
After compiling data from eight states, the researchers found that if the same trend continued nationwide, the actual rate of veteran suicides per day would be closer to 44.
“What we’ve found across the country with the states is that they underreport veteran deaths by about 18%, which means a person who served in the military n ‘is not marked as having served in the military 18% of the time,’ Jim Lorraine, president of America’s Warrior Partnership, the organization behind the study, told Fox News Digital. “Conversely, communities count people who have never served in the military 7% of the time, which is a combined error rate of 25%.”
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An effort to streamline data and arrive at an accurate number could be a massive undertaking, Satterly noted, requiring increased funding and an overhaul of how departments share information. However, she noted that the government has the ability to track information, with each member of the military having a permanent record showing their branch, unit and years of service.
“I think it starts with the DOD…we need to stop hiding or minimizing what’s going on,” Satterly said.
Another problem is the inability to understand why current and former service members commit suicide.
“As we look at our Vietnam veterans who are now over 70…the issues may be very different for them now,” Satterly said. “They struggle with a lot of physical ailments, cancer, a whole host of things that show up through Agent Orange and other exposures.”
“Understanding why people die by suicide can look very different between different communities and different periods of service,” Satterly said.
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Satterly also pointed out that there is a misconception that most or all military suicides are the result of war trauma or lack of purpose after the military removes the uniform when in reality , there are other factors that could play an even bigger role, such as an unstable family life, divorce, and financial problems, all of which can come into play when someone decides to take their own life.
While these factors play a role in suicides in the general population, current and former service members are particularly at risk. Due to the nature of their work, many of them have suffered from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, two conditions that can make suicide more likely.
Satterly also pointed out that mental health remains a stigmatized issue within the military, with current and former service members not seeking help until a crisis escalates for fear of appearing weak.
The All Secure Foundation aims to address this issue in its outreach to the military community, providing service members and veterans with the information and tools they need before problems escalate.
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“We spend our days moving around in different positions and different bases trying to really break down the stigma that they face,” Satterly said.
The All Secure Foundation attempts to frame mental health care as a matter of training, noting that service members are constantly being trained to go to war, but not what comes after.
“You were trained in how to shoot, move, communicate and heal yourself…. Who trained you to come back from the war?” Satterly said they ask service members. “So now you realize you don’t need to ask for help, you just need to ask for training… it takes a huge weight off the stigma, I can handle this, I’ve been trained.”
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But Satterly noted that the process to reverse the situation will take time, arguing that previous generations “scrubbed the dirt on” the issue and didn’t take it seriously.
“You have to treat it like an injury, so I think the language we use is really key moving forward,” Satterly said. “We don’t say PTSD, we use PTSI, post-traumatic stress injury. Because we know you can see it through brain scans and it can be cured. I think that takes a huge pressure off our service members, that it’s not a matter of willpower, it’s not a matter of weakness.”