Resources: Veteran Mental Health

CBS News this week reported the findings of a five-month investigation into veteran suicides.

The results were startling: according to data from 45 states, 6,256 men and women who had served in the armed forces took their own lives in 2005 - that's 120 suicides every week. Chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian and his investigative team found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide that year than non-veterans.

During the course of the investigation, the investigative team compiled a list of resources for how to find help and recognize the warning signs of mental health issues that could also be warning signs for suicide.

How to Spot Warning Signs
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides the following warning signs.

  • Talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • Trying to get pills, guns, or other ways to harm oneself
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting in a reckless or risky way
  • Feeling trapped, like there's no way out
  • Saying or feeling there's no reason for living

    For more on mental health services at the Dept of Veterans Affairs, click here or call the VA's suicide hotline at 800.273.TALK (8255).

  • Suicide Signs Unique to Vets
    Experts on suicide prevention say for veterans there are some particular signs to watch for.

  • Calling old friends, particularly military friends, to say goodbye
  • Cleaning a weapon that they may have as a souvenir
  • Visits to graveyards
  • Obsessed with news coverage of the war, the military channel
  • Wearing their uniform or part of their uniform, boots, etc
  • Talking about how honorable it is to be a soldier
  • Sleeping more (sometimes the decision to commit suicide brings a sense of peace of mind, and they sleep more to withdraw)
  • Becoming overprotective of children
  • Standing guard of the house, perhaps while everyone is asleep staying up to "watch over" the house, obsessively locking doors, windows
  • If they are on medication, stopping medication and/or hording medication
  • Hording alcohol -- not necessarily hard alcohol, could be wine
  • Spending spree, buying gifts for family members and friends "to remember by"
  • Defensive speech "you wouldn't understand," etc.
  • Stop making eye contact or speaking with others

    For a wallet-size card titled "What to do you if you think someone is having suicidal thoughts," click here.

  • Where to Get Help
    Hotline for Veterans
    Veterans who need help immediate counseling should call the hotline run by Veterans Affairs professionals at 1-800-273-TALK and press 1 identifying themselves as military veterans. Staff members are specially trained to take calls from military veterans and its staffed 24 hours a day, everyday. While all operators are trained to help veterans, some are also former military.

    Clinical Care
    To find the closest Dept of Veterans Affairs facility to you that has mental health professionals, go to this Web site and type in your zip code.

    Veterans Affairs Health Benefits
  • Read more about what benefits are available to veterans.
  • To find out more about what kind of services returning service members qualify for, check out this summary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
    According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, "PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening."

    Those who have experienced a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These can include:
  • Combat or military exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
  • Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake.

    For those who have PTSD, there are generally four types of symptoms:
  • Reliving the event
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling keyed up -- on alert and on the lookout for danger

    The National Center for PTSD offers this information in a tipsheet, and notes: "after the event, you may feel scared, confused, and angry. If these feelings don't go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities."
  • Related Links

    • The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress, special center within Veterans Affairs, has more information.

    • Click here for resources for U.S. service members returning from deployment.

    • Click here for help for veterans with PTSD.

    Air Force Suicide Prevention Program

    Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine
    410.671.4656

    Navy Environmental Health Center's Suicide Prevention site
    757.953.0959

    Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program

    National Center for PTSD
    802.296.6300

    Suicide Prevention Action Network USA
    Phone: 202.449.3600
    Fax: 202.449.3601
    E-mail: info@spanusa.org

    Nonprofit group Give An Hour

    SAMHSA's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    800.273.8255
    TTY: 800.799.4889
    Recent Legislation to Prevent Veteran Suicide
    On November 6, 2007, President Bush signed into law the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act. It's named after a soldier who committed suicide in Grundy County, Iowa, in December 2005, after serving an 11-month tour in Iraq. The bill requires the Department of Veteran's Affairs to meet deadlines in providing the following services:

  • Train VA staff on suicide prevention and mental health care
  • Staff each VA medical facility with a suicide prevention counselor
  • Screen soldiers who seek care through the VA for mental health needs
  • Support outreach and education for veterans and their families
  • Research the most effective strategies for suicide prevention
  • Create a peer support counseling program so veterans can help other veterans

    However, while the bill requires the VA to provide these services, it provides no new funding.


  • By Laura Strickler with reporting from Sarah Fitzpatrick in Washington.
    • Christine Lagorio

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