Wheeler Highlights Need for Veteran Suicide Prevention Education in Light of New Study

State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) is seeking to raise awareness about the alarmingly high rate of suicide among female military veterans. A recently released, multi-year study conducted in 23 states between 2000 and 2010 found that female military veterans are six-times more likely to commit suicide than non-veteran women.

“The rates are astonishing and the research shows this isn’t a new phenomenon,” said Wheeler. “This has been a reality for decades, but it has only recently been realized how much higher the suicide rate among women veterans actually is. We can no longer sit back, we need to be proactive about ensuring the public is aware of the issue and work together as a community to curb its impact.”

Wheeler has been active on the issue since she was elected. In 2013, one of her first major pieces of legislation was to expand the efforts of the Illinois Discharged Servicemember Task Force to address issues such as outreach and health care for female veterans following military service.

The data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed that while suicide rates among female veterans has always been higher, young veterans are at an even more alarmingly high risk. Female veterans between 18 and 29 years old are twelve-times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans in the same age group.

Since research into this phenomenon is still new, and primarily focused on numbers, not causes, it’s still unclear what the causes actually are. Researchers point to potential risk factors such as a disproportionate number of military personnel coming from difficult childhoods, the traumatic impact of overseas conflict, and sexual assault in the military, which has had more and more light shed on it in recent years. One thing is clear, government data clearly shows the shift to an all-volunteer military has caused overall suicide rates to increase among veterans.

While research is ongoing and seeking ways to deal with this distressing issue, Wheeler is stressing the importance of educating the public, “Suicide is an issue that is very difficult to discuss,” she said. “But we need to discuss it and make sure we don’t let it slip through the cracks and lead to more veterans needlessly taking their lives.”

To find out more about the impact of veteran suicide, visit www.va.gov. If you’d like to support efforts to help struggling veterans, or find ways to become involved, there a number of organizations: Stop Soldier Suicide, stopsoldiersuicide.org, and Disabled American Veterans, www.dav.org, are just a couple of options available.