Saving soldiers from suicide

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on June 16, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 16 at 6:53 PM

We often hear about soldiers killed in combat, but what about those who take their own lives? One survey conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found 30 percent of service members have considered suicide. It’s a complex problem that's on the rise.

Corporal Michael Jernigan is proud of his service, but it came at a price.

“I’m the first U.S. serviceman to lose both eyes in the global war on terror,” he said.

Jernigan's Humvee drove into a roadside bomb. He also lost two fingers, damaged his hand and knee, and crushed his skull. He had 30 surgeries in one year.

“There were times that I laid in the hospital bed, and I wished that I would have died on the street in Iraq,” Jernigan said.

He was able to bounce back, but others don't. Every day, 22 veterans kill themselves. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.

Dr. Patrick Link says since 2004, suicide rates went up for both deployed and non-deployed service members.

“A surprisingly large number of soldiers are coming into the army with psychiatric problems,” said Dr. Link, UCLA Dept. of Psychiatry.

About one-in-four soldiers suffers from at least one psychiatric problem. About one-third of attempted suicides are associated with mental disorders before joining the army. Other risk factors include being male, being white, a low rank, and a low education level. Better screening and support for managing stress are needed.

“Ideally, you would like to have people be so resilient to stress that it actually improves their lives instead of makes them worse,” he explained.

Jernigan co-founded a program called Paws for Patriots to help place service dogs with veterans. Now he helps the 22-kill initiative raise awareness about veteran suicide.

“We try to support them and empower them,” said Jernigan.

Even though he’s had his share of hard times, he said he wouldn’t change it.

“The whole thing, I’d do it all over again,” Jernigan said. “I really would.”

The study also found women have lower suicide rates than men in the army except during deployments.

Suicide rates among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were about one-and-a-half times higher than those in the civilian population.

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