The vast majority of suicides are committed by older veterans, with 69 percent being older than 50. An additional 30 percent of the suicides are committed by veterans younger than 41, and supposedly in their prime. A silver lining has emerged with technology providing a promising avenue for preventing veteran suicides. In conjunction with traditional approaches, technology is being incorporated to help address PTSD and suicidal tendencies.
1. Dashboard Technology
The Army believes that the information and data to identify suicidal veterans--and possibly prevent suicide--is there. The problem is sharing information between various commands. Enter the Commander's Risk Reduction Board, a database of information on each soldier that can alert commanding officers about suicidal risks. Forensics show that, in hindsight, oftentimes warning signs are there, but the issue is acting on them immediately.
2. 24 Systems Become One
At the moment, the Army is utilizing 14 individual systems to collaborate it into one large, suicide prevention database. Future plans include incorporating an additional 10 systems into the larger unit. There are numerous files on soldiers and vets, some protected by HIPAA Law, but experts agree that there's a way to lawfully streamline the databases.
3. Identifying High Risk Soldiers
The typical commanding officer has 3,000 soldiers to look after. The number of veterans key officers may be in charge of can be even greater. By creating an algorithm based on risk factors, such as someone attending alcohol rehabilitation or going through a divorce, it can create an automated red flag. One person can't be expected to care for thousands of people alone, but technology can help.
4. The Army's Communications-Electronics Commands Steps Up
Initially, the Army asked for outside bids to complete the dashboard, but were promised a delivery of two to five years. That wasn't acceptable given the spike in suicide rates. In the end, it was the Army's own service men and women that delivered a pilot program in six short weeks. Already, some preventative measures are in place and the future looks promising.
5. Virtual Soldier Turns Vet
Right now, the goal of the Army is to create a virtual soldier profile for eachactive soldier. This profile follows them through station moves and tracks major life events, such as the loss of a child and other potential risk factors. Eventually, this can be expanded to a virtual veteran profile--and actually, it's a fairly rational expansion.
6. Increased Connectivity
Beyond the Army's dashboard, simply being in touch with a support network can play a key role in suicide prevention. While studies show that people who use the internet more are actually more likely to commit suicide, it doesn't consider what the internet is being used for. For example, many veterans might feel like there's no one to reach out to, but nonprofits and government agencies can utilize texts, social media sites and online mentoring.
7. Support Groups Online
While it might be uncomfortable for a veteran to attend an in-person support group, the anonymity offered online might encourage more vets to join. Prior to attempting suicide, many vets look for an outlet and can't find one. By utilizing online tools or virtual therapy sessions or support groups and marketing them properly to vets--that has the potential to decrease suicide.
While the the Army is taking a giant leap in the right direction, but more is needed. Many alternate avenues are being offer to veterans who are seeking mental health help. Additionally, as more treatments are developed and research, the Army should be looking to open up the options even further. Obviously not every treatment is going to work for every soldier so as many as possible should be offered. It's time to reverse this trend and start supporting veterans properly.