Study: Veterans with PTSD have a higher risk of dying from more than just suicide

Elizabeth Howe
September 26, 2019 - 11:21 am
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Veterans with PTSD are twice as likely as the general U.S. population to die from suicide — but the risk doesn't stop there.

A June 2019 report revealed that veterans treated for PTSD were twice as likely to die from not only suicide, but also accidental injury, liver damage, viral hepatitis, and diabetes. Also, veterans with PTSD had a slightly higher "all-cause mortality." This means they are 5 percent more likely than the general U.S. population to die — from any cause. 

In part, this didn't surprise Dr. Jenna Forehand, a research fellow at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont. 

"The overall results support prior literature demonstrating an association between PTSD and excess mortality, although the mortality risk among veterans with PTSD is much smaller than in previous studies," Forehand said in a VA report.

The slight change in mortality rate was attributed to the larger sample pool — the study included veterans from all eras which meant a large proportion of young veterans across a range of PTSD treatments. 

The team was surprised, however, that veterans with PTSD also had an elevated risk of death from causes other than suicide — like accidental injury and viral hepatitis. 

“These findings suggest that behavioral factors may contribute to the excess mortality risk,” she says. “We’re concerned that Veterans with PTSD are engaging in unhealthy or risky lifestyle behaviors like injection drug use that may lead to infection with viral hepatitis. Compared with the general population, treatment-seeking Veterans with PTSD, including young Veterans and women, are dying from largely preventable causes. PTSD is therefore a major public health concern and a priority for preventive health care.”

On the reverse side, veterans with PTSD had fewer-than-expected deaths from cerebrovascular disease, which leads to various types of strokes or a brain aneurysm, and cancer. 

The next steps for Forehand's team involve researching whether evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD has any impact on these mortality rates. 

For more information on potential warning signs of suicide, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

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