Serving in the military doubles the chances that a man will commit suicide, according to a new study in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Researchers, led by Dr. Mark S. Kaplan of Portland State University, followed more than 320,000 men for 12 years and found that those who had been in the military between 1917 and 1994 were twice as likely to kill themselves when compared to non-military men.
Although the study did not include men who served the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it demonstrates the increased risk these veterans will face in the coming years, the study’s authors said.
“With the projected rise in functional impairments and psychiatric morbidity among veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, clinical and community interventions that are directed towards these patients are needed,” the authors wrote.
Kaplan said that 1.3 percent of deaths in the U.S. are due to suicides. However, veterans having served between World War I and the first Gulf War were 2.13 times more likely to die of suicide.
The veterans at the highest risk for suicide were older, white, better educated, and had activity restraints due to health problems. Military men who had never been married and were overweight were less likely to kill themselves.
Serving in the military did not increase the risk of being a homicide victim, or of dying from natural or accidental causes, the study showed.
Kaplan said only a quarter of veterans are being seen by Veterans Affairs Hospitals, “so there needs to be a very proactive approach to screening veterans in general.”
Veterans are 58 percent more likely use firearms when committing suicide than the general population. The American Association of Suicidology reported that 1.4 percent of U.S. deaths in 2004 were suicides and 51.6 percent of those suicides were committed with a firearm.
“Clinicians need to be alert for signs of suicidal intent among veterans, as well as their access to firearms,” Kaplan said.