Male U.S. Veterans More Likely to Commit Suicide

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, June 12, 2007; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- Male U.S. military veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as men who haven't served in the armed forces, a new study claims.

These findings suggest that doctors should look for signs of suicidal intentions among soldiers returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, the researchers said.

"Male veterans are twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to die by suicide," said study author Mark Kaplan, a professor of community health at Portland State University. "We don't understand why. But this finding may foreshadow what is going to come with the current cohort of military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq."

For the study, Kaplan's team collected data on 320,000 men over age 18 who participated in the National Health Interview Survey. The men were followed for 12 years.

The researchers found that men who had served in the military at some time between 1917 and 1994 were twice as likely to die from suicide than men in the general population.

Veterans were also more likely to own guns and commit suicide with a gun, Kaplan said. In fact, veterans were 58 percent more likely to use a gun to kill themselves.

According to Kaplan, the risk for suicide was highest among men whose activities were limited by health problems. In addition, veterans who killed themselves were more likely to be older, white, better educated and married.

However, overweight veterans were less likely to kill themselves than those of normal weight, the researchers also found.

The number of veterans who commit suicide is much larger than has been previously reported, Kaplan contended, adding that earlier studies were based on data from the U.S. Veterans Administration.

"Most veterans don't seek or receive medical care through the Veterans Administration system," Kaplan said. "So we have to be careful about earlier studies."

"The main finding of this study resolves an important and timely question of considerable importance," said Dr. Randall Marshall, director of Trauma Studies at New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City.

Previous research had focused on veterans whose health-care needs were being served by VA centers, and also primarily on Vietnam veterans, Marshall explained.

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