Female Veterans Three Times More Likely To Commit Suicide

A new study has found that women veterans are three times more likely to commit suicide than the general female population. Is it any wonder, given the particular challenge female servicemembers face?

The numbers on sexual assaults of servicewomen vary, but all of them are horrifying. There was the 2003 survey in which 30 percent of female veterans said they were raped while in the military. A Pentagon report released last year found that more than 2,900 sexual assaults were reported the previous year, a rise of 9 percent. The year before that, 2007, only 181 prosecutions resulted from the 2,200 servicemen who were investigated for sexual assault. And those are just the ones that were reported, usually to great personal consequence.

More recently, 15 percent of women receiving Veterans Health Administration health services reported military sexual trauma to screeners. According to one study published in June, "Military sexual trauma was associated with increased odds of a mental disorder diagnosis, including posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders. Sexual trauma is an important postdeployment mental health issue in this population."

The study released yesterday by public health researchers in Oregon used recent data for 5,948 women who committed suicide in the 16 states that report that information. Data on female veterans, plus active duty and reserve and National Guard, was also examined. Female veterans were three times as likely to commit suicide; other studies have found that male veterans' suicide risk is twice as high as the general population.

Here's one bit of good news: in May, Obama signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which has particular focus on female veterans' health. (The number of women in the VA health care system is expected to double in the next five years.) Among other provisions, it requires specialized training for mental health professions for sexual assault victims.

A recent PBS Newshour segment focused on female veterans in California. It also mentions the fact that women veterans who have experienced sexual assault are less willing to come to the VA for resources because they associate it with their trauma.

Women's Suicide Risk Rises Sharply After Military Service [Oregonian]
Datapoints: Self-Inflicted Deaths Among Women With U.S. Military Service: A Hidden Epidemic [APA]
Related: Military-Related Sexual Trauma Among Veterans Health Administration Patients Returning From Afghanistan and Iraq [American Journal of Public Health]
Time
Women Veterans Face Unique Obstacles, Needs [Newshour]

Image via Flickr/Creative Commons.