Can fish oil supplements reduce veterans’ suicide risk?

According to the Veterans Administration, suicide rates among veterans are nearly twice as high as the general population, and account for 20 percent of the suicides nationwide.

In an effort to combat the high veteran suicide rate, the VA, the Medical University of South Carolina and the National Institutes of Health have launched a joint investigation into whether omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can lower suicide risks.

Omega-3s are the primary fats in the brain and are necessary for neural function and brain development; previous studies have shown that omega-3s can substantially improve depression.

In 2011, an analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that service members with higher amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid were less likely to commit suicide than others. The study compared the medical records of 800 service members who had committed suicide between 2002 and 2008 with those of 800 active-duty service members who had not attempted suicide.

Current investigation

The new omega-3 study will be conducted by the U.S. Army, span 3 years and costs $10 million dollars. Veterans-already receiving mental health services will be given smoothies with large amounts of omega-3s for 6 months. Another subset, also receiving mental health care, will be given the same without the omega-3 fatty acids.

The principal investigator stated that the investigation is needed to determine if the "clinical effect . . .is strong enough that the military would then consider providing supplements to all military personnel, not just those who are already experiencing depression."

A co-investigator pointed out that the facts that show suicide rates are high for both veterans that have been deployed to war zones and those who have not.

Qualifying for veteran medical benefits

Veterans may qualify for medical benefits from the VA for various psychiatric conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder if they can demonstrate that their illness is service-related.

However, filing a veteran's disability claim and proving that it is service-related can be a complicated and lengthy process. Applicants have to follow strict guidelines and may have to file an appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals and/or the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims if they are initially denied benefits.

Consulting with an attorney knowledgeable in this area of law is advised. Your lawyer can help navigate the system and you receive the benefits you may be entitled to as a veteran of the United States military.