David Goldman/AP

Are black women key to easing military suicides?

Veterans Affairs officials hope to learn from culture of social support and encouragement that keeps suicide rates low.

Black women have the lowest rates of suicide in the country, and although it’s not completely understood why, Veterans Affairs officials hope to re-create elements of black female culture that may help stop military veterans from killing themselves.

Women - particularly black women - provide each other social support and encouragement categorized by the opportunity to speak honestly with their peers, said Jan Kemp, mental health director for suicide prevention at the VA.

“The sense of community among themselves, and the ... built-in support that they get from each other is something we’re paying a lot of attention to, and trying to find ways to emulate,” Kemp said. “I think often that veterans and men don’t have that same sort of personal support, and we have to build that for them,” she said.

In general, white men are more likely to commit suicide than people in other groups. The suicide rate among white men was 25.96 per 100,000 from 2005 to 2009, according to the Centerns for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, the rate for black women was less than three suicides per 100,000. Government data for suicide deaths among military personnel is not available by race.

Combine that with the stress that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put on troops, and the risk of suicide increases. “We’re working with the highest-risk group in the nation,” Kemp said.

Stories abound of vets dying at their own hands after slipping through the cracks in the care network or not seeking help because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

In April, Spc. Rico L. Rawls Jr., 22, reportedly shot himself after he led Georgia State Police on a high-speed car chase. At the time, Rawls was wanted in connection with the shooting death of his wife, Jessica T. Rawls, of South Bend, Ind.

“My son-in-law Rico came back from Iraq a different person. We asked, pleaded, and begged for help for him, but no one listened,” Rawls’s mother-in-law told an Indiana TV station in a written statement. “The pre-Iraq Rico Rawls would not have done this.”

In another case, Kim Ruocco’s husband, John, killed himself in February of 2005 while awaiting a redeployment to Iraq, according to MSNBC. “He was so ashamed of being depressed and not being able to do his job,” Ruocco told MSNBC. She believes her husband was going to seek treatment, but “when he sat there and thought about what it meant to get help, how people who see you, how young Marines viewed him, how his peers viewed him ... he thought the problem was him.”

Kim Ruocco, 49, is now the national director of suicide education and outreach for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a group that provides counseling resources for suicide survivors and facilitates support groups for family members. The organization works to provide the social support similar to that prevalent among women -- particularly among black women -- for the loved ones of veterans and active duty personnel who die by suicide or in combat.

“We really try to provide wraparound support,” said TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller. Surviving family members are paired with peers who have experienced similar loss.

“We give people a place where they can talk and share openly - connect with others who have experienced a similar loss,” Neiberger-Miller said.

The task ahead of groups like TAPS and the VA is daunting. Suicides among active-duty troops are up in the first half of this year, the Associated Press reported Friday.

There were 154 suicides in the first 155 days of 2012, according to AP. That was about 50 percent more than the number of U.S. forces killed in action. Last year, 130 active-duty troops killed themselves over the same period, ending June 3. Veterans are more likely than their civilian counterparts to die by suicide, according to a report published in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year. About 18 veterans kill themselves every day, according to a Veterans Affairs spokesman.

Of veterans who committed suicide between 2003 and 2008, 92.3 percent were white, according to the American Journal of Public Health. White men made up 85 percent of the nation’s veterans in 2010, according to census numbers.

The VA launched its suicide-prevention program in earnest in 2007, Kemp said. Since then, the crisis line has received more than 600,000 calls and 50,000 contacts via computer chat.

Most contacts result in a referral for an appointment at a nearby VA facility or other services - sometimes just a ride, Kemp said. But more than 25,000 times, VA crisis line call-takers have called police because they believed a vet needed immediate intervention. Perhaps they were holding a gun, had taken pills, or told the call-taker that they could not be saved, Kemp said.

Among the most important VA efforts are those that offer support between peers, she said.

“People need someone to talk to - to bounce things off of, someone who perhaps has been there or knows about being there to provide that layer of hope and understanding that you can pull yourself out of this,” Kemp said. “We can help you pull yourself out of this bad place no matter how you get into that bad place.”

Veterans in crisis and their family members can call 800-273-8255 and press 1 to talk with a VA responder. Help is also available via text at 838255 or at VeteransCrisisline.net.

Families who have lost a service member to combat or suicide can also contact TAPS at 800-959-8277.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.