suicide and TBI
With funding from the Department of Defense, Lisa Brenner is
developing a suicide prevention program for military personnel
and veterans with traumatic brain injuries.
BY REBECCA VOELKER
Earlier this year, the Pentagon reported an extremely grim statistic: In the first months of the year, a soldier was more likely to die from suicide than from war injuries.
From early January to early May 2012, the suicide rate averaged
nearly one per day among active-duty troops — an 18 percent
increase from last year. Suicide rates among veterans are equally
daunting. According to an estimate from the Department
of Veterans Affairs (VA), a veteran dies by suicide every 80
In August, President Barack Obama signed an executive
order that strengthened suicide prevention efforts for service
members and veterans. Among the many efforts being funded
and watched by the Department of Defense (DoD) are those of
Lisa Brenner, PhD, who is working with colleagues to adapt a
civilian suicide prevention intervention for military personnel
and veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Brenner directs the VA’s Mental Illness Research, Education
and Clinical Center (MIRECC) in Denver and Salt Lake
City, one of 10 such VA centers designed to be incubators of
innovative research and treatment. Each center has a specific
mission; in Denver, Brenner and her colleagues study ways to
prevent suicide among veterans. They have about 30 ongoing
research projects. Funding is from the VA, DoD, and nonfederal sources including the State of Colorado TBI Trust Fund.
One project explored whether a history of TBI increases
suicide risk among veterans and service personnel. “We’re just
beginning to figure that out,” she says.
Brenner led a study examining suicide risk in 49,626 VA
patients with a history of TBI. The team’s findings show that,
overall, veterans with TBI have an increased risk of dying by
suicide compared with veterans without brain injuries. This
is consistent with findings among members of the general
population. The analysis was published in the July/August 2011
issue of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
Brenner is quick to note that more severe brain injury
doesn’t necessarily correlate with an increased suicide risk.