Survey: Suicidal thoughts, services concerns of recent veterans

Mary Stea holds a portrait of her son Mary Stea holds a portrait of her son who struggled with civilian life after the war in the Middle East. (Dec. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Thoughts of suicide and frustration with programs designed to help them transition back into civilian life are among serious concerns of recent war veterans, according to a survey by the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Nearly one in three who participated in the survey, which was conducted nationwide, said they had contemplated suicide, and nearly two in five said they knew someone who became a suicide victim.

The survey, dated July 30, comes as area veterans advocates have expressed alarm at what they say is a disturbing number of suicides and other self-destructive behaviors displayed among some veterans here on Long Island.

Veterans officials have accounted for at least nine suicides among Long Island Iraq or Afghanistan veterans in 2012, including two on consecutive days, according to John Javis, program director at the Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island, a collaborative effort involving veterans groups and institutions such as the Northport VA Medical Center.

"It's sad to say, but it's not surprising at all," Javis said, referring to the extent that suicide has occurred among veterans, as captured in the IAVA survey. IAVA is a New York-based nonprofit advocacy group for veterans of the two wars.

The online survey, which gathered the responses of 4,104 IAVA members during three weeks in February, also showed deep dissatisfaction with how Washington treats veterans.

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More than 80 percent of respondents in the IAVA survey said Congress or the president does not listen to their concerns. Nearly two thirds of women veterans who responded hold a less than positive view of services provided to them by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Of survey responders who have a disability claim pending with the Veterans Affairs department, nearly half have been waiting more than a year -- longer than the 125 days the VA considers acceptable, according to the survey.

But there are indications that area veterans may be approving of the VA Medical Center at Northport. Of the 4,632 post-9/11 veterans living on Long Island, 72 percent have come to Northport for services, according to VA figures.

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In all, more than 4,600 veterans of both wars are living on Long Island, according to the Northport facility. Last year, the center's suicide prevention hotline handled 134 "consults," up from 80 in 2011 and 44 in 2010.

Mary Stea, whose son Daniel shot himself to death in his father's Commack home in 2011, said she was "surprised and outraged" that suicide remains such a significant threat to veterans.

Daniel Stea, 24, a former Army specialist, had battled psychological problems after a combat tour in Iraq.

She said neither the Pentagon nor the VA was adequately prepared to address the psychological needs of soldiers stressed by the two wars.

"At this point, 12 years into the war, you'd think the government or the VA could be doing more," said Mary Stea, of Commack. American involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001.

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