By Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
According to a new study by the American Medical Association’s Archive of Internal Medicine, almost one in three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have sought care at through the VA have been diagnosed with a mental health problem. I wish that I could call this study a wake-up call - but veterans and mental health experts have been sounding the alarm for three years. As early as July 2004, the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that between more than 15 perecent of Iraq vets met screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And that was after only one year of war - before anyone had served multiple tours, before the insurgency created an urban battlefield without a front line, and before the sectarian conflict metastasized into a civil war. As the violence worsened, the mental toll on the troops rose. In February 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that “thirty-five percent of Iraq war veterans accessed mental health services in the year after returning home.”
This latest study shows that those veterans seeking care aren’t just suffering from “nerves” or “a little trouble sleeping.” And they also aren’t just coming to the VA to see the dentist, as VA Secretary Nicholson, the Rumsfeld of the Veterans Affairs Department, suggested two weeks age. Make no mistake: this is a generation of new veterans coming home to diagnosable illnesses like depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, debilitating problems that can lead to unemployment, divorce, domestic violence, even suicide. On CNN Monday night with Paula Zahn, I talked about these issues and the personal story of one female veteran’s fight with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Luckily, Congress is finally taking action to address the growing problem of suicide among new veterans. The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (S. 479 and HR. 327) mandates a campaign to reduce the stigma of mental health treatment in the military, better suicide prevention training for VA staff, and a 24-hour veterans’ suicide counseling line.
The bill is named after Iraq veteran Joshua Omvig, a 22-year-old Army Reservist who served honorably in Iraq, but returned home unable to cope with his memories of the war. Only months after his return from Iraq, he killed himself.
Joshua’s parents, Randy and Ellen, are amazing people of incredible courage. They have told their heart-wrenching story and dedicated themselves to helping other young veterans get the counseling that Joshua so desperately needed. And you can help Randy and Ellen. The Joshua Omvig Act is coming before the VA Subcommittee on Health this Thursday.
Here is a list of the Representatives on that subcommittee:
Michael Michaud (ME)
Phil Hare (IL)
Jeff Miller (FL)
Vic Snyder (AR)
Cliff Stearns (FL)
Jerry Moran (KS)
Corrine Brown (FL)
Richard Baker (LA)
Michael F. Doyle (PA)
John T. Salazar (CO)
Henry Brown (SC)
Shelley Berkley (NV)
If your representative is this list, please give them a call today and tell them that you support the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act. Click on their names to find the number to call. It will take just a minute or two of your time, and it will help thousands of new veterans get the care they need, before it’s too late.