VA suicide report: veterans twice as likely to die by suicide

Jonathan Kaupanger
June 25, 2018 - 12:52 pm

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There’s a little confusion with VA’s latest report on veteran suicide.  The clear part is we are still losing 20 people per day to suicide.  The muddled part: are those veterans or active duty personnel?

“Suicide is an epidemic,” says Stephanie Mullen, director of research for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  “It is killing Americans at an incredible rate.  2016 we lost 45,000 American lives to suicide and it hits the veteran population in particular but this is truly an American problem.”

The latest report from VA is an update to the most extensive report ever on American veteran suicide that was released last year.  VA’s part comes from examining more than 55 million civilian and veteran death records, from 2005 - 2015.  The new report contains information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Death Index and includes data from 2016.  While this information does give a more accurate look, it does not include the VA' s numbers because they are not set to release their 2016 data until the fall.  

In 2010, veterans accounted for 16.5 percent of all deaths by suicide but  made up 9.6 percent of the adult US population.  In 2015, the number of veteran deaths by suicide went down to 14.3 percent, but because there’s fewer veterans in the country, 8.3 percent of total US population in 2015, the daily suicide number remains at 20 per day.  “The latest VA report breaks that down a little bit further,” says Mullen. “[The report] says that the 20 a day breaks into about 16 veterans a day and 4 active duty/guards/reserves a day.”

Using firearms continues to be associated with the highest rate of suicide mortality. While the number of civilians and male veterans using guns to commit suicide has decreased, it's increased for female veterans from 34.3 to 39.9 percent.

For age, there’s a big difference when it comes to civilians and veterans.  With civilian men, more lives are lost to suicide by younger and middle age adults (18 – 54).  With veterans the highest rates of suicide can be found in the 18 – 34 age group. With women, veterans and non-veteran attempting suicide peak between 35 and 54.

By adding the CDC data to this report, VA has discovered that when comparing veterans to civilians, the rate of suicide in 2015 was 2.1 times higher for veterans.  Male veterans were 1.3 times a likely to complete suicide and the rate of suicide by women veterans was twice that as civilian women.

“Suicide remains a top clinical priority,” said Acting VA Secretary Mr. Peter O’Rourke. “One life lost to suicide is one too many. Suicide is a serious public health concern in the veteran population and across all communities nationwide. These data offer important insights to help VA to build effective networks of support, communication and care that reach veterans where they live and thrive.”

You can find more about VA’s suicide prevention resources and programs here.  Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.