Two new studies focus on veterans and suicide

According to a new survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), suicide is one of the most important issues facing this generation of veterans, with 37 percent of respondents saying they know a veteran who has committed suicide and 45 percent know of an Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran who has attempted suicide.

Furthermore, nearly one in three veterans have considered taking their own life and 63 percent of vets say they have a friend who they feel needs mental health care. Half of respondents have had people close to them suggest they seek mental health care (19 percent of those individuals did not seek care, with most of those people stating that they were concerned it would affect their career or would make their peers perceive them in a different light).

On a positive note, 93 percent of individuals know that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs offers a suicide helpline, and 91 percent of vets say they have recommended that their friends seek out mental health treatment.

In an unrelated study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the Naval Health Research Center found that the rising number of suicides in the military may not be caused by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they believe that untreated depression, manic-depressive disorder, and alcohol abuse are much stronger indicators that an enlisted individual will commit suicide. For more information about the study, visit JAMA.

Job-Search Challenges Hinder Young Veterans’ Reintegration into Civilian Life

Figures on the rate of unemployment among veterans can be confusing as media outlets report only parts of the story. Although the overall unemployment rate among vets has dropped slightly in recent months, a March 2013 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that for U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the rate is 9.9%, about 2% higher than for the general population. In short, more than 200,000 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are now unemployed (see the Harvard Kennedy School’s Research Roundup for a summary of recent studies on veterans and unemployment).

As a result of their military service, veterans often face additional obstacles that contribute to difficulties as they look for work. Conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other physical and mental disorders are common among veterans. A recent study found a direct correlation between depression and unemployment rates among veterans; the good news is that improved depression status (following treatment at VA hospitals) was associated with an increased likelihood of becoming employed.

The U.S. government, the Department of Defense, and other public and private institutions offer some support for veterans seeking civilian careers. For example, the revised G.I. Bill focuses on retraining, and tax credits are now available for employers who hire veterans. However, many veterans’ organizations are calling for more help for young vets transitioning from active duty.

For veterans, active-duty military personnel, and the career counselors who work with them, PAR is developing a new component of the popular Self-Directed Search® (SDS®) designed specifically to support the transition from a military career to a civilian career. Scheduled to release in July, the Veterans and Military Occupations Finder™ matches an individual’s military occupation code with civilian career possibilities. Used with the SDS, this new tool will help veterans explore their interests and capitalize on the skills they developed in the military. Finding a good job is one of the most important factors in a veteran’s successful transition to civilian life, and the Veterans and Military Occupations Finder provides a starting point for that search. To learn more, visit the SDS Web site and look for updates about the release of this new addition to the SDS product line.

Suicide in the Military: Can Technology Help Reduce the Risk?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to address the growing problem of suicide among members of the military, using technology to strengthen communication between active-duty troops or veterans and the mental health professionals who can help them. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki says that the VA will be making greater use of videoconferences between doctors and their patients, according to a June story from the Associated Press.

Suicides this year among active-duty military personnel now outnumber battle deaths, according to Pentagon statistics (New York Times, June 8). Between January 1 and June 8, 2012, there were 154 suicides—an average of one per day and an 18 percent increase over the number of suicides during the same period in 2011.

The VA is planning to use videoconferencing to eliminate some of the barriers that prevent members of the military from seeking help for feelings of distress or suicidal thoughts. Videoconferencing can reduce the amount of time patients spend traveling, making it more convenient to meet with a health care provider. Shinseki said that members of today’s military are comfortable with online chats, and working with them in this way can help reduce some of the stigma that patients feel about their mental health concerns. ‘‘Shame keeps too many veterans from seeking help,’’ Shinseki said.

The VA is also stepping up its use of electronic health records, according to the AP story. In recent months, Congress has criticized Shinseki about the length of time that some veterans have had to wait before receiving a full mental health evaluation from the VA. By integrating electronic health records among departments, the VA hopes to expedite treatment for veterans who need immediate attention.

VA officials estimate that up to two-thirds of all veterans who commit suicide have never asked for the VA’s help, a reality that Shinseki called frustrating and disheartening. “We know when we diagnose and treat, veterans get better,” he told the audience at a recent veterans suicide prevention conference, “but we can’t influence and help those we don’t see” (Stars and Stripes digital edition).

What do you think? Is videoconferencing a viable option for improving the responsiveness of mental health services for active-duty personnel or veterans? Do you use technology to communicate with clients—military or otherwise—in your practice? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

Historic, Censored “Shell-Shock” Documentary Film Restored and Released for On-line Viewing

Director John Huston’s film Let There Be Light, a documentary about the psychological issues of soldiers returning from World War II, has recently been restored and released by the National Archives and Records Administration. Produced by the U.S. Army in 1945, this controversial film was censored for more than three decades. By the time it was finally given a public screening in 1980, the quality of the then-available print was so poor that it was very difficult to view and understand. In this new restoration, the technical problems have been resolved, and many of us will now see this important piece of history for the first time.

Let There Be Light deals with “shell-shock,” or in today’s terms, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among returning soldiers. Huston, who is best known as the director of such classics as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Key Largo (1948), and The African Queen (1951), was serving as a major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps when he was given the assignment to create the documentary in June 1945. Its working title was The Returning Psychoneurotics. Although by current standards, the psychiatric methods and therapeutic “cures” are dated and perhaps unrealistic, the film captures some historically significant aspects of military psychiatric practice during the 1940s.

Huston later described the project:

I visited a number of Army hospitals during the research phase, and finally settled on Mason General Hospital on Long Island as the best place to make the picture. It was the biggest in the East, and the officers and doctors there were the most sympathetic and willing…. The hospital admitted two groups of 75 patients each week, and the goal was to restore these men physically, mentally and emotionally within six to eight weeks, to the point where they could be returned to civilian life in as good condition—or almost as good—as when they came into the Army…. I decided that the best way to make the film was to follow one group through from the day of their arrival until their discharge. (Source: National Film Preservation Foundation, Film Notes)

Let There Be Light was ground-breaking not only in its use of unscripted interview techniques, but also because of the mix of racial groups represented in the film. Although the U.S. military would remain largely segregated until President Truman’s executive order of 1948, a few Army hospitals had begun integrating in 1943. Huston’s film shows African American and white soldiers being treated side-by-side, an unusually progressive choice at that time.

To view this documentary now, visit the National Film Preservation Foundation and click on the link for Let There Be Light. And let us know what you think—leave a comment here to join the conversation!

Community Partners Contest Winners

For more information about PAR's involvement in the community, please visit www4.parinc.com/Community.aspx.

Recently PAR held a contest and asked its Customers to describe, in 300 words or less, their involvement in their favorite local charities. The winners are listed below and will receive cash donations in their names to the charities they submitted and support – $500 for the first place winner, $350 for second place winner, and $250 for the third place winner.

The winner of the PAR Community PARtners contest is Robert Mintz from Short Hills, NJ. Robert nominated a charity called Down The Block (http://www.downtheblock.org) that provides assistance to local residents who find themselves in financial distress. Robert described the charity as a “hyper-local” non-profit organization located in Millburn Township, NJ that focuses on assisting those who are not eligible for traditional support.

The second place winner is Shaun Keel who nominated Foster A Life (http://www.fosteralife.com). The organization’s mission is to provide services and opportunities to foster children to promote a more positive self-image and an increase in their self-esteem. They are a 100% volunteer organization, so all funding goes directly to the children.

The third place winner is Judith Mathewson who submitted an organization named Welcome Home Vets (http://www.whvets.org). This organization focuses on providing psychological, financial, or spiritual help to veterans returning home from combat as well as to their families.

Our congratulations and thanks to each of you for all the good work you do in your communities!

Download the entries from the winning contestants.