Staggering Findings of Female Veterans
The Los Angeles Times has published a piece discussing research that the government has recently released about the suicide rate among female veterans. The research found that female veterans commit suicide at almost six times the rate of other women. Obviously, this begs the question of what is causing this massive difference – is it experiences that women have in the military or is it the type of woman that is more likely to join up, or both? The same questions have been asked about the suicide rate among male veterans for years, but this is the first research that has looked specifically at women.
Finding out why the rate is so high is extremely important in order to find the right way of addressing the problem. Suicide in the military and among veterans has become a major issue for the military over the last while, with suicide rates among veterans getting more press than they have in years past. According to the research, there is a “suicide gap” between veterans and nonveterans, and between men and women. For nonveterans, men commit suicide at a rate of 20.9 for every 100,000 annually, and women commit suicide at a rate of just 5.2 for every 100,000 annually. However, when we look at the veteran population, the rates (not the actual quantity; just the rate) get much, much closer. Male veterans commit suicide at a rate of 32.1, while female veterans commit suicide at a rate of 28.7. Since the quantity of female veterans is not very high, suicide amongst them has not gotten as much attention. However, this new finding shows a troubling trend among female veterans.
The numbers get even worse when controlled for age; young female veterans (between ages 18-29) kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans. While this may imply that the recent wars are mostly to blame, the fact that even in other age groups, the suicide rate never drops below 4 times the rate of nonveterans, and gets as high as 8 times would imply that there is a common denominator of some kind that can be exacerbated by the time of service. As to the cause, this is from the LA Times:
It is not clear what is driving the rates. VA researchers and experts who reviewed the data for The Times said there were myriad possibilities, including whether the military had disproportionately drawn women at higher suicide risk and whether sexual assault and other traumatic experiences while serving played a role.
Several case studies provide both insight into the potential problems and obscurity over what the principal causes are. In some cases, the suicide seemed directly linked to experiences had while in service. Specifically, the case of Katie Lynn Cesena, who reported being raped by a fellow service member, who was never prosecuted. Cesena’s mother reported that she was being treated for PTSD and depression, and that she “lived in fear of her purported rapist”. While this case highlights what many of us are inclined to assume are the causes of the higher suicide rate, other cases, such as Linda Raney, suggest that in some cases, veteran status may be nothing more than a coincidence. Raney was 65 at the time she committed suicide, and had encountered several tragedies and life difficulties leading up to her death.
The differences in suicide methods between female veterans and nonveterans also provide potential insight; female veterans are far more likely to use guns as a method than nonveteran females. The researchers hypothesize that this may simply be because veterans are more likely to have access to guns than noveterans. It makes sense that someone who has an understanding and familiarity with firearms would be more likely to use one than someone without that same understanding.
Whatever the causes, the higher suicide rate among male and female veterans is something that is worth addressing. Thankfully, we live in a time where respect and gratitude to our veterans is widespread, and we are in a position to make a difference in helping our veterans reduce their risk for committing suicide.