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Report: Suicide rate spikes among young veterans

WASHINGTON — The number of young veterans committing suicide jumped dramatically from 2009 to 2011, a worrying trend that Veterans Affairs officials hope can be reversed with more treatment and intervention.

New suicide data released by the department on Thursday showed that the rate of veterans suicide remained largely unchanged over that three-year period, the latest for which statistics are available. About 22 veterans a day take their own life, according to department estimates.

But while older veterans saw a slight decrease in suicides, male veterans under 30 saw a 44 percent increase in the rate of suicides. That’s roughly two young veterans a day who take their own life, most just a few years after leaving the service.

“Their rates are astronomically high and climbing,” said Jan Kemp, VA’s National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention. “That’s concerning to us.”

Reasons for the increase are unclear, but Kemp said the pressures of leaving military careers, readjusting to civilian life and combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder all play a role in the problems facing young male vets.

Female veterans saw an 11 percent increase in their suicide rate over the same span. Overall, suicide rates for all veterans remain significantly above their civilian counterparts.

The good news, according to the report, is that officials have seen decreases in the suicide rates of veterans who seek care within the VA health system. Of the 22 deaths a day, only about five are patients in the health system.

“What we’re seeing is that getting help does matter,” Kemp said. “Treatment does work.”

Now, she said, the challenge is expanding that outreach. Persuading younger veterans to seek care remains particularly problematic, because of stigma associated with mental health problems.

VA officials have boosted their mental health personnel and suicide hotline staff in recent years, but the outdated data doesn’t reflect those changes.

The report also notes that national rates of suicide have remained steady or increased slightly in recent years, indicating the issue is a larger national health problem, not simply a military and veterans issues.

By Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes
Twitter: @LeoShane


WASHINGTON (AP) – Suicides across the military have dropped by more than 22 percent this year, defense officials said, amid an array of new programs targeting what the Defense Department calls an epidemic that took more service members’ lives last year than the war in Afghanistan did during that same period.

Military officials, however, were reluctant to pin the decline on the broad swath of detection and prevention efforts, acknowledging that they still don’t fully understand why troops take their own lives. And since many of those who have committed suicide in recent years had never served on the warfront, officials also do not attribute the decrease to the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Still, they offered some hope that after several years of studies, the escalating emphasis on prevention across all the services may finally be taking hold.

With two months to go in this calendar year, defense officials say there have been 245 suicides by active-duty service members as of Oct. 27. At the same time last year there had already been 316. Each of the military services has seen the total go down this year, ranging from an 11 percent dip in the Marine Corps to a 28 percent drop for the Navy. The Air Force had a 21 percent decline, while Army totals fell by 24 percent.

The officials provided the data to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose it publicly.

Last year the number of suicides in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines spiked to 349 for the full 12-month period, the highest since the Pentagon began closely tracking the numbers in 2001, and up from the 2011 total of 301. There were 295 Americans killed in Afghanistan last year, by the AP’s count.

Military suicides began rising in 2006 and soared to a then-record 310 in 2009 before leveling off for two years. Alarmed defense officials launched an intensified campaign to isolate the causes that lead to suicide, and develop programs to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help and encourage troops to act when their comrades appeared troubled.

The Pentagon increased the number of behavioral health care providers by 35 percent over the past 3 years and embedded more of them in front-line units. It also beefed up training, expanded crisis phone lines and delivered more than 75,000 gun locks to the services to distribute.

“Suicide is often a perfect storm in an individual life, where many supports and many things come undone around a service member,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “I think there’s been a lot of people encouraging our troops who are in trouble to seek help, that help is available, that help can work and that suicide is not the only option.”

While much of the suicide prevention effort involves similar studies and programs, each service has set up its own particular methods to deal with the problem.

Navy Capt. Kurt Scott, director of the service’s suicide prevention programs, said the Navy is working to recognize the causes of stress beforehand and then help sailors figure out ways to deal with it. Often stress is tied to family issues, including the strains of leaving for deployments, substance abuse, depression or financial problems.

A study released this summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no evidence of a link between suicide and troops who deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones over the past decade.

Scott said that sailors are receiving annual training, including sessions on how to identify stress in their subordinates or comrades. The training also helps sailors identify personal and work-related issues that might cause anxiety as they prepare to deploy, and then suggests ways to deal with the stress — including exercise or talking out the problems with chaplains or other troops.

The Marines have also targeted substance abuse as something that appears to increase the risk for suicides.

Adam Walsh, who works with the Marine Corp’s community counseling and prevention programs, said it’s too early to declare that suicides are declining in general. He said, however, that the Marines are updating an alcohol abuse prevention campaign and also now require that every battalion and squadron have a suicide prevention program officer.

The Army, which is by far the largest military service, has the highest number of suicides so far this year, with 124, while the Air Force had 43, the Navy had 38, and the Marines — the smallest service — had 40.

Army spokesman Paul Prince said the service has certified nearly 2,500 military and civilian leaders to be able to interact with soldiers on suicide prevention, and has conducted thousands of hours of training with the troops.

Price said suicide remains a daunting issue for the Army and the nation and “defies easy solutions.” So the service has expanded soldiers’ access to behavioral health services to improve their ability to cope with the stress that can be caused by separation, deployments, financial pressures, other work-related issues and relationships.

Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for the Air Force, said airmen have a new program that emphasizes leadership responsibilities in the effort to prevent suicides and a new Air Force website includes tips on recognizing distressed personnel.


-Originally posted by AP News

FOX54 Special Report: Help for Military with “Hidden Wounds”

FOX54 Special Report: Help for Military with “Hidden Wounds”

By Jake Wallace – bio | email

This year brought one of the worst months on record for military suicides.

In July the rate doubled the amount of suicided for civilians.

The main cause – post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s an illness one woman is fighting in memory of her late brother.

“That’s the day my life changed forever,” says Anna Bigham.

That day is October 19, 2009.

The day Marine Lance Corporal Mills Bigham took his own life.

“he came back to find that his greatest war was the war at home.”

Mills was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. His sister, Anna, saw first hand how it affected her younger brother.

“I saw the insides and the outsides of the nightmares. My neighbors would call me saying ‘your brother is in the street, holding a machete in his boxers, pretending to play war.’ “

Mills’ struggle and eventual death encouraged Anna to help returning soldiers battle once again, this time with PTSD.

Bigham started ‘Hidden Wounds’, a non-profit organization that connects military members fighting PTSD with counselors.

Since January 2010, Hidden Wounds has conducted 1500 counseling hours and helped hundreds of veterans gain control of their PTSD.

Steven Diaz, a Marine – is one of those veterans.

Diaz was hit by an IED while in Iraq – and says it was the last thing he remembers from his tour.

“I had to have the story told to me because i just remember the sound of it.”

Diaz spent 20 months physically recovering from his injuries, but also had to battle the mental wounds that developed.

He says discussing his feelings with other wounded vets helped his recovery process.

Both Bigham and Diaz say that the largest battle they fight, especially with veterans and soldiers, is the idea that needing therapy is a sign of weakness.

“That stigma behind it is our greatest enemy. When we come back, we’re still trained to think like machines, but at the same time, we try to help them realize that you’re still human. Humans have issues and problems, and it’s ok,” says Diaz.

Dr Nancy Brown, Helping Vets With Hidden Scars

Nancy Brown holds a photo of her son, Will Brown, now serving overseas

Nancy Brown holds a photo of her son, Will Brown, now serving overseas

Helping vets with hidden scars

By Jeff Stensland,, 803-777-3686

Social work professor Nancy Brown vividly remembers driving to her house in Forest Acres after her son, Will, was deployed to Iraq in 2009. For months whenever she turned the final corner onto her street her heart would start racing and she would become filled with dread.

“I knew that if something were to happen to him there would be a strange car waiting in my driveway, and I always half-expected one would be there every time I turned that corner. So I didn’t want to turn that corner,” she said. “I called that the year of not sleeping.”

For Will, an Army reservist who came back safely from Iraq, home would never be quite the same either. Brown says her son intimated to her his nervousness about driving down streets on garbage pick-up day. The plastic recycling bins placed next to curbs reminded him of the roadside bombs he and his fellow soldiers would encounter in Iraq.

But Will would be alright. No longer on the front lines, he found a way to work through the stress of war and his degree in Russian and Arabic studies has landed him a job as a media consultant overseas. He also recently got married to a woman he met in Kyrgyzstan while studying Russian at the London School of Languages. Brown keeps a photo of him and his finance on her desk—a dashing young couple standing dockside on a bright summer day in an exotic port-of-call.

Others in the Brown’s lives would not be so lucky. Will’s best friend since eighth grade, Marine Lance Cpl. Mills Bigham, never could shake the hidden scars inflicted during his service in Iraq. Bigham’s shooting of a 12-year-old holding what turned out to be a shoddy grenade haunted him until he decided to end his own life in 2010. He was only 23.

Brown says she wishes she could have done more for Bigham while he was alive and admits that she struggled with bouts of guilt about his death.

“I would ask him how he was, and he would always say ‘fine,’ but he wasn’t,” she said. “War changes people.”

To help honor Bigham, Brown and a former colleague are creating a military social work program at USC that trains people in the community to identify when veterans are struggling with PTSD and equips with them with tools to help. USC also offers a certificate for master’s level social work students that covers issues of trauma, substance abuse and family relationships.

The community program now being developed is designed for social workers, health care professionals or anyone else who may have frequent interactions with veterans and their families. Along with Bigham’s family, Brown helps promote a non-profit called Hidden Wounds, which provides counseling to veterans and their families.

Suicide has become a major concern of the nation’s military. Among active duty troops, there was a record of 350 suicides in 2012, nearly twice as many as a decade before. And an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brown, who has spent more than three decades as a therapist and directs USC’s Drug and Addiction Studies Graduate Certificate Program, said the problem of PTSD may be especially difficult for reservists and National Guard member, who must quickly transition from combat situations back to office jobs in the civilian world.

“A lot of our vets are doing really well, and we have to acknowledge that,” she said. “But there are many others who the war has taken a big a big toll on and who are not having an easy time adapting back.”

Additional resources:

USC Counseling and Human Development Center at 803-777-5223

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255

June 27, 2013 National PTSD Awareness Day Rally, S.C. State House 2:20PM



CONTACT: Ashley Randall

                                                               Public Relations Director

                                                                                                Phone: (803) 873-6540



Hidden Wounds Host National PTSD Awareness Day Rally, S.C. State House


COLUMBIA, S.C. – On Thursday, June 27, 2013, Hidden Wounds will host a National PTSD Awareness Day Rally on the State House grounds in Columbia, S.C.  Columbia native’s and founding members Steven Diaz and Anna Bigham of Columbia-based non-profit Hidden Wounds, will lead this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Rally beginning at 2:20 PM with closing remarks set for 3:30 PM.


Speakers include; The Honorable James E. Smith, Jr., Helen Pridgen, Director of SC AFSP, Mr. Bill Lindsey, Director of NAMI SC, Ms. Wendy Graham and Lisa Mustard, Directors for Psychological Health for the SC Army National Guard, Ms. Ashley Lambert-Wise, CEO Battling Bare, Ms. Amy LeClaire, Director of Suicide Prevention Dorn VA, Ms. Trisha Pruitt, Care Giver, and Lt. Dan Hoffman, USMC Ret., Vietnam Veteran.


Awareness Booths include; Team River Runner, PAALS, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, Team Red White & Blue, Mental Health America S.C., Veterans Administration, NAMI, Battling Bare, Center for Health Integration, Hidden Wounds, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Blue Star Mothers of the Midlands, and University of South Carolina Chapter of Student Veterans of America.


More than 6,500 American service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and over 50,000 have been wounded. What those statistics do not take into account are the tens of thousands who suffer from invisible psychological wounds including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression. The Veterans Administration and Department of Defense report 22 military veterans die by suicide each day in the United States, nearly 1 military veteran each hour.


Hidden Wounds has provided more than 210,000 counseling hours to military veterans nationwide.



Hidden Wounds is a non-profit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to provide interim and emergency counseling services to ensure the psychological health and well being of military veterans and their families. #GetInTheFight

Marine’s suicide shines light on depression

By CHUCK CRUMBO – © 2010

Published – Tuesday, Feb. 02, 2010

Mills Bigham was a 19-year-old Marine in Iraq when he made his first kill.While on a foot patrol, someone hurled a grenade at Bigham’s squad. Bigham, who was at the point, turned and fired.” I pulled the trigger quickly, twice. Pop… pop,” the Columbia Marine wrote in his journal. Two bullets hit the attacker’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Within minutes, he was dead. The grenade was a dud. Bigham checked the attacker’s identification. He was 12.

Less than four years later on Oct. 19, Lance Cpl. Mills Palmer Bigham sat in his red Chevy Tahoe, put a .410-gauge shotgun to his forehead and pulled the trigger one last time.He was 23. Family said Bigham, a graduate of A.C. Flora High School, suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In hopes they can prevent another veteran’s suicide, Bigham’s family recently founded Hidden Wounds, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Columbia. “My brother fell through the cracks,” said Anna Bigham, the Marine’s sister. About one out of every five veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have some form of PTSD and depression, according to a federal study. Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs said the suicide rate among veterans between 18 and 29 years old climbed 26 percent from 2005 to 2007. The VA also said 20 percent of the 30,000 suicides reported in the U.S. are committed by veterans. The suicide rate among veterans is nearly twice the rate for civilians, according to reports.Through Hidden Wounds, the Bighams aim to provide temporary counseling and support to sufferers of PTSD, depression and traumatic brain injury until they can enter the Veterans Affairs health care system. Temporary help is needed because the VA reports it has a six-month backlog in processing claims, the Bighams said.Some veterans need help sooner, Anna Bigham said. That’s why the family founded Hidden Wounds.

A spokeswoman for the Dorn VA Medical Center said the hospital supports the Bighams’ efforts. Like so many service members coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, Mills Bigham found it difficult to cope with the demons of war that haunted his memories. Anna Bigham said her brother seemed to feel like he was out of place after completing his enlistment in October 2008. In the Marines, her brother had a built-in support group of buddies, many of whom were dealing with similar issues. But once PTSD sufferers return to the civilian world, many feel like they’re “a fish out of water,” according to a VA study.This sense of isolation can deepen feelings of depression and suicidal tendencies, the report added.

Anna Bigham said her brother seemed to be overwhelmed with guilt. “In his last three or four months he didn’t go out in the daytime,” Anna Bigham said. “He told me, ‘I feel like everyone can see what I’ve done. I can’t go on this way. “Hidden Wounds also hopes to help the veterans’ families learn tell the signs of PTSD and depression and help their loved ones seek care. John Bigham said he knew his son suffered from nightmares, ringing in the ears and had “sparks of anger,” all signs of PTSD. “But I didn’t put it 100 percent together until he died,” John Bigham said.

Mills Bigham wrote about his first kill in his journal on Oct. 3, just 16 days before he took his own life.Bigham said he wanted to tell the story “so you can understand the way death may or may not affect the living party. “As he approached the fallen attacker, Bigham said he could see “it is abruptly clear he is leaving his world, and soon. “He is suffocating in his own blood. He is blowing blood bubbles through his red teeth. He is crying. There are bubbles coming from the two holes in his chest. One to the left of his heart, and the other to the right. Death took him andthere were no new bubbles. He cried no more. I checked his ID. He is 12. I wept that night.”

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