Government and Regulations

Veteran Suicide Rate Up 32% Since 2001

Although veterans are committing suicide at rates lower than previous estimates, the overall risk is still higher than that for civilians.


 

Veteran suicides increased 32% from 2001 to 2014 according to a new VA report. The report also noted that rates for adult nonveterans also increased by 23% over the same period. However, veterans still account for 18% of all suicides in the U.S.

The report also highlighted a number of positive developments. For example, a previous study, conducted in 2012, estimated that 22 veterans committed suicide per day. That study included information from 3 million records obtained from mortality records in 20 states or data from veterans who used VHA health services. The more recent study, which examines 55 million veteran records from every state from 1979 to 2014, found that an average of 20 veterans per day die by suicide.

“Twenty a day is not that different from 22,” said David J. Shulkin, MD, VA Under Secretary for Health, in an interview. “It is far too high.”

Preventing veteran suicide is a top priority for the VA, and the recent report showed that the VA’s efforts are making an impact. For example, the rate of suicide among veterans who use VA services increased by 8.8% from 2001 to 2014, compared with a 38.6% increase in suicide among veterans who do not use VA services. These services include mental health treatment at VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, and Vet Centers offering readjustment counseling.

In addition, the Veterans Crisis Line, launched in 2007, offers immediate support to veterans experiencing suicidal thoughts. To date, staffers have answered nearly 2.4 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis more than 62,000 times. The VA announced that it is expanding its Veterans Crisis Line by creating a satellite site in Atlanta, Georgia, and adding 200 additional responders.

“This collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allow us to make better informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy,” said Dr. Shulkin, in a statement that previewed the survey results. “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero.”

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