Possible link between High Altitude and Veteran Suicide

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WEST JORDAN (ABC4 News) – High altitude may be a factor in veteran suicide and now the Veterans Affairs medical teams in Utah will have the tools to study that connection.

Congressman Ben McAdams spoke Monday alongside researchers and veterans about the bill behind the funding. McAdams sponsored the ‘VA High Altitude and Research Act;’ it would give the Utah VA the funding and directive to study the neurological impacts of high altitude and find solutions. The bill recently passed the House and Senate and could be signed by the President as early as this week. 

Chris Goehner is a veteran who spoke on the bill Monday; he served two tours in Iraq as an anesthesia tech and talked about his struggle with PTSD since that time. “I didn’t understand why I deserved to live. In 2018 after I completed my first master’s degree, I had to go up to the Salt Lake City VA and check myself in because I wanted to kill myself.”

Goehner continued, “While deployed I saw servicemembers die on my operating table from injuries in combat. Since returning from my second deployment I have lost more friends and service members to suicide than I ever did in my two deployments combined.”

Researchers today explained Utah is in what’s called the ‘Suicide Belt’ along the Rocky Mountains where suicide rates are higher than in other parts of the country, and statistically increase with higher altitude. 

Goehner feels this research is vital and should be treated as any other risk factor, “If PTSD is a disorder, we can bring order to it by minimizing risk factors. It’s the same thing as reducing your alcohol intake before the Fourth of July when you know you’re going to be around fireworks. Allow us the opportunity to know what puts us at risk even if it is something as simple as the altitude.”

If you or someone you know needs help, there’s the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information, visit utahsuicideprevention.org.
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