The panel called for a fundamental shift in treatment to focus on screening and prevention instead of relying on troops to come forward on their own.
Shortcomings in mental health care were also identified in a recent report by the VA's inspector general. It found that several of the agency's hospitals and clinics lacked properly trained workers and had inadequate screening for mental health problems. It said this put Iraq veterans at increased risk of suicide.
Floyd "Shad" Meshad, president and founder of the California-based National Veterans Foundation, has no doubt that military suicides are a growing problem. He said he receives 2 to 3 calls each week from Iraq veterans contemplating suicide -- or from their families.
A Vietnam veteran who has counseled other vets for more than 30 years, Meshad runs a toll-free support line based in Los Angeles. He was asked recently to help train counselors at the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, where a spike in calls from veterans has been reported.
One of the biggest challenges for troubled vets is the stigma of a mental health disorder, said Meshad. "It's very, very hard for you to reach out and say 'I'm hurting.' It's hard for men to do it, but particularly (for) a soldier who's endured life and death situations."
Kim Ruocco of Newbury, Mass., said her husband, John, was a role model for the young Marines he led in war. He worried about the ramifications of seeking help, personally and professionally.
"He felt like that was the end of everything for him," Kim Ruocco recalls. "He felt like his Marines would, you know, be let down."
Ruocco ended his life in February 2005, a few weeks before he was to redeploy to Iraq.
Joshua Omvig, 22, a member of the Army Reserve from Grundy Center, Iowa, also took his own life. In December 2005, he shot himself in front of his mother after an 11-month tour in Iraq. His parents, Ellen and Randy Omvig, sPage: 1 2 3 4 Related medicine news :1
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