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Suicide risk among veterans remains high

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About 20 percent of the state's military veterans are at risk for suicide, a new study has found.

The study, published by West Virginia University and Atlas Research, was based on information obtained from the West Virginia Military Survey, which asked 1,200 veterans about their physical and mental health issues. Joseph Scotti, a WVU professor who worked on the project, said that rates of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury increasing, on top of increased homelessness and unemployment, mean today's veterans are under more stress than past generations experienced.

The study evaluated suicide risk with the Suicide Behavior Questionnaire-Revised on which scores can rank from three to 18. A score of seven or higher suggests significant risk for suicide, according to the report. The study found scores for depression, PTSD and suicide risk were all higher among younger veterans. Overall, 40 percent of veterans met the clinical cutoff for depression, 25 percent for PTSD and 20 percent for suicide.

A similar survey from 2007 which focused primarily on veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan found the percentage of veterans experiencing clinical levels of PTSD and/or depression is at 50 percent for the two youngest age groups.

"If we look at this info in terms of number of people who meet clinical cutoff for depression and/or PTSD, we're at 50 percent," Scotti said. "That is very close to the figure of 52 percent we found in a prior survey. There are a significant number of veterans experiencing one or both of those, both being quite debilitating."

Scotti said SBQR is a tried and true method of calculating potential risk that has been used to predict future suicide attempts "so this 20 percent number is pretty serious."

Scotti said one or two crises could push these people over the edge. The study listed several recommendations for the Legislature's Select Committee on Veterans Affairs, including increasing the number of mental health services for veterans and making those services more readily available. Scotti also recommended a public service campaign targeted toward veterans and their families to educate them on the risk factors and signs of suicide.