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Suicide rates soar among US veterans: official

Biden promises US won't forget wounded vets
Arlington, Virginia (AFP) Nov 11, 2010 - US Vice President Joe Biden marked Veterans Day Thursday with a tribute those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a pledge of enduring support for those returning home with life-altering wounds. At a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the country's premier burial ground for its war dead, Biden noted that more than 5,700 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 40,000 wounded. "Long after these wars are over and the welcome home parades are finished and the memorials are built and the streets are renamed, our obligation will endure," he said. "There are over 16,000 young men and women who will require extensive medical care for the rest of their lives, and their life expectancy is over 35 years," he said.

Noting the presence in the audience of Republican leader John Boehner, Biden assured there was bipartisan support for providing for veterans' needs even in a time of mounting budgetary pressures. The Department of Veterans Affairs was given a 114 billion dollar budget for 2011, the latest in a series of annual increases as war casualties have mounted. Biden pointed out that the US combat mission in Iraq formally ended in August, although 50,000 US troops remain in the country in training and advisory roles. President Barack Obama has set a July 2011 deadline for starting to bring home the estimated 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, but US military leaders have played down expectations of dramatic reductions this year. "Our soldiers are making measurable progress on the overarching goal to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Biden said. "This mission also comes at great cost in lives and loss of limbs, but not in the loss of spirit or courage," he said.

Biden spoke at a Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington Cemetery where the remains of unknown soldiers from war's past are buried. The cemetery, the revered resting place of soldiers going back to the US Civil War, has become so full that scandal erupted earlier this year following revelations that record keepers had lost track of thousands of remains. Also Thursday, retired general Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans' affairs, said the administration was working through a huge spike in disability claims, stemming, in part, from an easing of the requirements to get help for post traumatic stress disorder. "Last year, in 2009, we pushed out 977,000 cases," the secretary told National Public Radio. "Then we got a million back in." Shinseki also said the sluggish economy was hurting veterans in particular. "Over the past 18 months the economic downturn has that impact on the families and homelessness," he said. He noted that the VA had pledged to end homelessness among veterans in five years. "We are doing fine," he said, "but not doing it fast enough."
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Nov 11, 2010
The economic downturn and the trauma of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed more US veterans to suicide, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday.

As Americans across the United States and around the world celebrated the contributions of men and women in uniform on Veterans Day, Shinseki outlined a sobering picture for the approximately 23 million veterans in the United States.

Only eight million of those veterans are currently registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Shinseki said. Many slip through the cracks due to crippling mental health problems, homelessness, alcohol and illegal drug abuse or crime.

Several studies have shown that suicides are on the rise among youths who have left the military.

"It's compounded by the stress, the trauma that goes with the current operations, where we have a much smaller military being asked to do so much and then repeat it tour after tour," Shinseki told National Public Radio (NPR).

"I know the suicide numbers are up."

In January, he indicated that 20 percent of some 30,000 suicides in the United States each year are committed by veterans. That means that an average of 18 veterans commit suicide each year.

Suicides claimed the lives of a record 309 servicemembers last year, up from 267 in 2008, according to Pentagon numbers. The number of suicides between 2005 and 2009 -- 1,100 -- exceeded that of the number of US military members killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs do not keep statistics on veteran deaths.

Shinseki pointed to a backlog of Veterans Affairs cases or disability claims that has soared to over 700,000 this year, up from 400,000 to 500,000 the year before.

He noted that the number of new cases has increased faster than his agency's capacity. Even though the Department of Veterans Affairs closed out 977,000 cases last year, it got another million new cases.

A large number of the new cases involve younger veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Department of Veterans Affairs has changed its requirements regarding PTSD claims, so that veterans no longer have to prove they got the disorder because they served in a warzone. There has also long been a stigma in the military associated with psychological problems.

"If it's verified, that connection is now automatic, it's provided," Shinseki explained, noting this had increased the number of cases he has to address.

"We have PTSD treatment going on with veterans that go back to World War II, Korea, Vietnam. So it's a large generational issue."

Asked whether the dour economy had increased veterans' reliance on his agency, Shinseki noted that "the economic downturn has had that impact on families" over the past year and half, while he has struggled to meet a goal to end homelessness among veterans in five years.

"We're doing fine, just not going fast enough," he added.

A July report by the army on suicide prevention found that senior leaders have failed to track reckless behavior and monitor alcohol and drug abuse among soldiers back home as the military focused on fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over nearly a decade.

Repeated deployments with shortened dwell time have also strained the military, and the army hopes to soon give soldiers two years at home for every year deployed.

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India flight tests Kaveri engine in Russia
New Delhi (UPI) Nov 11, 2010
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