Veteran Suicide Highlights The Need To Provide More Support And Services For Older Veterans

Jinger Jarrett

Last week, veteran Gerhard Reitmann, 66, took his life. A Vietnam veteran and former Camp David guard for President Nixon, Reitmann struggled with the memories of his service in Vietnam. As police investigate his death, the question remains, why are there so many veteran suicides?

It is important for veterans to know the facts about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Knowing the facts about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can help veterans to determine if they may have it in order to get the appropriate help and prevent veteran suicide. Veterans may seek care from their nearest Veterans Affairs healthcare system.

As reported in the the Tampa Tribune, Veterans Affairs released a study in 2012 on veteran suicide. According to the VA, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day. The study drew the following conclusions: although suicides reported as veterans had decreased, the majority of veterans who committed suicide were over the age of 50 and were last seen in an outpatient setting. As the veterans' population continues to age, the risk of suicide increases.

According to the study, 70 percent of those who committed suicide were 50 and older. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was rated as an important factor in veteran suicide, and those who had high war zone exposure had significantly higher rates of PTSD. An estimated 35.8 percent of men and 17.5 percent of women met the criteria for PTSD. By comparison, the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among returning combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated to be between 10 and 18 percent.

Gerhard Reitmann was a patient at the Bay Pines facility in Tampa, Florida. Since 2012, 54 patients of the facility have committed suicide. During that same year, the VA's Office of Inspector General investigated the way the facility was handling veteran suicide. The Inspector General pulled the cases of 20 veterans and discovered the facility had failed to provide follow up care to at least eight of the veterans.

Jason Dangel, a spokesman for the facility, said that Bay Pines has since improved its follow up for veterans at risk.

"When we are notified that a veteran either directly or indirectly implies that he or she intends to commit suicide or inflict self-harm, we initiate a health and welfare check through local law enforcement and emergency medical services if appropriate."

Veterans Service Officer Alan Hill cited several reasons for the problems veterans are having including military sexual trauma, PTSD, alcohol and drug abuse, and traumatic brain injury. Hill warned that veterans needed to start the process of getting help as soon as possible, as the paperwork process may take awhile.

"Clients shouldn't think paperwork preparation means immediate results. Regional offices in Houston and Waco make the decision, or it may go up to a board of appeals. There are more than eight forms, plus support documents, and most packets have 20 pages or more. Often it takes at least 120 days for a decision. In my seven years here, four have been settled in 90 days or less. Some, if they are already registered as VA patients, get a faster response. If they aren't registered, first there's paperwork, which results in appointments, but that could be seven months with medication prescribed in between. And sometimes, the individual feels like he's doing better, and tells us to cancel the whole registration thing. This happens, too. "Vets who feel they have a problem should start at the HCVC or the VA hospital or their medical provider. But don't put it off. Don't struggle with your demons."

[Photo by the Tampa Tribune]