Weekly Columns

PTSD & Veteran Suicide

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Washington, May 11, 2016 | Tiffany Haverly (202-226-8072) | comments

Recently, I spoke at American University with my colleague, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), about many of the issues veterans face as they transition back into civilian life. One issue we discussed that has been of interest to me since I’ve served on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and veteran suicide. This week, the HVAC will hold a hearing to evaluate efforts to prevent veteran suicide. We’ll hear from representatives from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America and the VA.

According to IAVA, over half of respondents to their annual membership survey reported having a mental health injury. 80 percent of those who reported a mental health injury also reported seeking care for their injury, and more than 75 percent of those who sought care said that a loved one suggesting they seek help made a difference and encouraged them. While it appears that more veterans may be seeking help for mental health injuries, we still have work to do. One veteran with PTSD who is afraid to seek help or who commits suicide is one too many, and this is an issue I will continue to work tirelessly on in Congress.

Did you know that veterans who have been deployed have a significantly higher suicide risk than the general population? Further, recent data has shown that women are more than twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. This issue can be difficult to discuss, but it’s important we look at the resources available to veterans to ensure these men and women have access to both education and treatment. It’s equally important for loved ones of veterans to educate themselves on the warning signs of PTSD so they can support and advocate for treatment for our heroes who have lost hope. 

According to the National Center for PTSD, four common symptoms of PTSD are: reliving a trauma, avoiding situations that remind you of the event that caused you trauma, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and being jittery, hyper alert or always on the lookout for danger. These symptoms can disrupt the lives of those struggling with PTSD, and you should seek immediate help if they last longer than three months or cause you extreme distress. These symptoms often begin immediately following a traumatic event, but they can develop months or even years after the event occurs. There are confidential resources to help veterans cope if they believe they have PTSD. Veterans and their family members can dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 for help or visit ptsd.va.gov.

Congress designated June as PTSD Awareness Month in 2014, and June 27th has been recognized at PTSD Awareness Day since 2010. In 2010, I cofounded the Invisible Wounds Caucus, a bipartisan group of members of Congress whose mission is to promote awareness of and solutions for mental health challenges facing our servicemembers and veterans. As a physician and veteran myself, I realize it’s important to raise awareness and provide a forum for policymakers to discuss solutions and best practices. Veterans and servicemembers suffering from PTSD deserve to know there are confidential resources available to them, and it’s my duty as a Congressman to ensure these resources are reliable and effective.

You can rest assured I will continue to be a tireless advocate for our nation’s veterans and that my work is just beginning.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.
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