Suicides among active service members and veterans are an unfortunate fact these days. The rates of veteran suicides are alarming. The reasons are sad. Unless the military gets a handle on why and to whom this is happening, the tide may not be stemmed.
What is Army STARRS?
The “Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service-members”
A five-year study commenced in 2009. The data is beginning to yield results. The Army, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and several universities have partnered to form the “Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service-members,” or Army STARRS. The study collected information from more than 110,000 Soldiers from the Army. It is the largest study to date on this subject matter.
Army STARRS Finds Rise in Suicides After Initial Deployment
In August, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of all types of servicemen, not just from the Army, found no association between deployments and increased suicide risk. That study was run by the Naval Health Research Center. Army STARRS instead found a statistically significant rise in suicides following initial deployments. Dr. Michael Schoenbaum of the NIMH said that “Soldiers who have deployed at least once do have an elevated suicide rate compared with Soldiers who never deployed.”
Higher Suicide Risk for Combat Troops
The Army STARRS study found troops in combat jobs have a higher propensity to commit suicide. MOS categories to include artillery and infantry are also associated with an elevated risk. Additionally, those that have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, were found to be a higher risk. Individual who are risk takers are more likely to choose a combat MOS, and the study also found that these same people are not only at risk for increased suicides, but also for fatal accidents including things such as a super-charged motorcycle. The study will hopefully provide some new types of risk factors that had not previously been contemplated.
More Deployments Appear Not to Further Increase Chance of Suicide
While the results I’ve mentioned thus far might have been anticipated, the study did dispel a myth about deployments and suicide. Previously, conventional wisdom was that multiple deployments increased the risk of suicide. That was found not to be the case. Dr. James Churchill of the NIMH indicated that soldiers that had been previously deployed already knew what to expect. “They’ve been there before; they’ve developed their own sort of strategy or resilience to be able to deal with that stressful situation.”
The study collected data from various sources, including: historical data, current active duty soldiers, new soldiers just entering service, soldiers who are currently hospitalized due to an attempted suicide and even some soldiers that complete baseline testing before they are deployed and then take the same test upon their return. Researchers are hoping that patterns of risk and resilience will be identified. Drs. Churchill and Schoenbaum are both optimistic that Army STARRS will eventually save lives.
Veterans Crisis Line
There was a lot of well-deserved consternation the past few weeks about the government shutdown. It was no secret that the VA had closed down some of its public contact teams and call centers. But one thing that remained open and will always be open around the clock is the Veterans Crisis Line. It is available via hotline (855) 855-8992, text (838255) or an online chat (www.veteranscrisisline.net). Veterans Help Group begs of you to not hesitate to use this resource if you or anyone you know is showing signs of despair.
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