By Alejandra Velarde-Reyes
UCLA Luskin student writer
According to an NPR radio broadcast on Thursday morning, 22 veterans commit suicide every day, or about one every hour. The broadcast invited experts in mental health and veteran services, including social welfare professor Mark Kaplan to address the problem of suicide risk among returning veterans.
In 2007, Kaplan was part of one of the first groundbreaking research studies to reveal that veterans were at higher risk of suicide than the general public, a study that followed thousands of veterans over a 12 year period. Gaining national attention by the media and by congress, the study prompted increased action toward suicide prevention for veterans, Kaplan said in the broadcast.
Since then, new studies have been conducted revealing more detailed information and Kaplan has become more involved in the issue of veteran suicide risk. He expressed concern over gun access, higher risk women in the military, and what factors really contribute to suicide and mental health problems for veterans.
“We’ve assumed many suicides were associated with trauma from deployment but a recent study found that…the risk of suicide among veterans who were deployed and those who were not, were not significantly different,” Kaplan said.
The broadcast explored the reasoning for such evidence, suggesting that it is military service itself rather than exposure to war that causes higher suicide risk.
Though the military attempts to increase resilience in soldiers individually, Kaplan said there is a lack of analysis of the military as a social setting.
“What about the psycho-social environment of the military? What role that may be contributing is pretty much unknown,” Kaplan said. “The military has been resistant to looking at itself as an institution and instead focused on individuals and defines the problem in purely psychiatric and therapeutic ways.”
Kaplan suggested that other factors such as family crisis and financial problems that have little to do with military service precipitate events that lead to suicide.
The segment also addressed the problem of veterans’ access to guns, a central element in suicide risk among veterans.
“There are many veterans who still sleep with a gun under there pillow. This is not uncommon. Many find it difficult, whether they are at risk or not, to part with their guns. We need to do a much better job at probing for gun access and doing something about it,” Kaplan said.