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Veterans have higher suicide risk than civilians, study finds

June 16, 2007|Amber Dance | Times Staff Writer

Veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as members of the general population, according to a study of 320,890 men, about a third of whom served in conflicts from World War I to the Persian Gulf War.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that those who were most likely to die from suicide included veterans whose health prevented them from fully engaging in activities at home or work.

Whites, lifelong bachelors and those with more than 12 years of education were also at greater risk, said lead author Mark Kaplan, a behavioral scientist at Portland State University in Oregon.

The study did not include veterans of the current conflict in Iraq, but Kaplan said: "I think that our results may foreshadow some ominous problems that are on the horizon."

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, tracked the men from 1986 to 1997.

Kaplan and his colleagues used data from the National Health Interview Survey, a program that collects information on illness and disability in the United States.

They cross-referenced the survey information with the National Death Index, which compiles individual causes of death, to determine the factors associated with suicide in veterans.

Of veterans who committed suicide, 84% used firearms, compared with 55% of nonveterans.

"It's imperative that we be more aggressive in asking about the patient's access to firearms," Kaplan said.

The risk of suicide was lower in overweight veterans, corroborating evidence from a similar study of Swedish military personnel.

The cause for the association is unclear, although other researchers have found that high body mass index is associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal behavior.

amber.dance@latimes.com

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