Compared to depression, PTSD "has become a more acceptable set of symptoms with which a person can present himself," said Goodstein, who is also a co-founder of a nonprofit, free mental health outreach program aimed at veterans called The Soldiers Project (www.thesoldiersproject.org).
"So, both the doctor's antenna is up [for PTSD], and the vet is more likely to be able to bring it to the doctor's attention, because there won't be such a stigma connected to it as there might be with depression," he said. As the PTSD patient receives needed care, his or her risk for suicide should decline, Goodstein said.
Similarly, the study found that depressed veterans with any physical disability were also at lowered risk for suicide -- possibly because they, too, saw doctors more often.
Other risk factors for suicide mirrored those seen in the general population. Veterans struggling with depression were much more likely to kill themselves if they were also battling substance abuse, the study found. Depressed male veterans were about three times as likely to kill themselves compared to females, and whites were at higher risk than blacks or Hispanics.
Due to a lack of data, the study was not able to assess the impact of specific military activity, such as active combat, on risks for depression and suicide.
The real challenge, experts agreed, is to make sure that all veterans struggling with depression get the care they need.
Certain VA centers "are beginning to set up what's called a Suicide Attempts Registry so that they can follow veterans who are at higher risk," said Gregory K. Brown, a specialist in these issues.
"I think having registries that follow up on high-risk veterans is one of the ways to go," said Brown,
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