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Substance Abuse, Lack Of Care Leading To Veteran Suicides

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On Tuesday, members of the Utah State Legislature heard from experts who examined the risk factors for veteran suicides. Dr. Steve Allen, who presented a new Veterans Affairs study on the connection between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicides, said that America’s struggle with opiate addiction is also claiming the lives of veterans.

“Opiates are also associated with suicide. There’s a significant risk for people using opiates, whether prescribed or illegal, for suicide. That’s a broader issue in terms of substance abuse also being a significantly associated with suicide,” Allen said.

65 percent of veteran suicide victims were 50-years-old or older, while veterans 18 to 29 years of age have the highest suicide rate. Access to VA care is crucial for those at risk of suicide. According to the study, since 2001, veterans receiving care through the VA have had an 8 percent increase in suicide rates while those outside of VA care had an increase of 38 percent.

Allen said that recent scandals involving VA hospitals are only aggravating the problem of veteran suicides.

“Being in VA care is a significant protective factor for veterans in treatment. There’s about 22 million veterans in the United States. Only about 8.5 million of those are enrolled in VA care, about 2 million of those are female veterans,” he said. “One of the really negative consequences, from my point of view, of the negative publicity that the VA gets is it may prevent people from getting the care that’s effective and safe for them and will help prolong their life.”  

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include nightmares and feelings of isolation.