PTSD: 'For every soldier killed in combat, 25 veterans are dying by suicide'

Former Manhattan district attorney calls for better veterans' care

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Morgenthau warns that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has reached "epidemic" proportions among the nation's war veterans and service members.

Morgenthau—Manhattan's district attorney for nearly 25 years, and now in private practice—cites a March Veterans Administration (VA) report that estimates that current or former military personnel account for about 20% of all suicides in the United States, or about 7,000 veterans and service members annually. The math suggests that for every active soldier killed in combat, 25 veterans die by suicide. 

Furthermore, veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be at particularly high risk, according to an Institute of Medicine report commissioned by the Department of Defense. The report estimates that 13% to 20% of veterans—338,000 to 520,000 men and women—may already have or develop PTSD, and Morgenthau notes that the actual number may be higher.

While the VA has made strides in caring for PTSD—including preventing 5,500 suicides in the first seven months of 2011, increasing its mental-health budget to $6.2 billion from $4.5 billion, and promising to hire an additional 1,600 mental-health clinicians— Morgenthau says that thousands of veterans  seeking treatment do not receive the care they require.

Morgenthau proposes that the VA could meet its challenge of hiring and retaining psychiatrists by creating public-private partnerships with hospitals and universities. If the VA allocates about 5% of its $6 billion mental-health fund, those millions of dollars could enable veterans to access the care they deserve, he concludes (Morgenthau, Journal, 9/23).

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