The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign of the crisis easing despite suicide prevention being the VA’s top priority.
Although the total veteran population declined by 18% during this period, more than 6,000 veterans committed suicide each year, according to the VA’s 2019 Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
The report did not take into account the possible effects of IL programs aimed at raising awareness and removing the stigma of seeking help for mental health. Overall, however, the data shows that the suicide rate is increasing.
In 2017, more than 6,100 veterans died by suicide, a 2% increase from 2016 and a total increase of 6% since 2008, according to the report.
Firearms were the method of suicide in 70.7% of suicide deaths among male veterans and in 43.2% of suicide deaths among female veterans in 2017, according to the report.
The suicide rate among the elderly National Guard and Reserve members who have never been federally activated and, therefore, have not received VA service. Among that population, there were 919 suicides in 2017, an average of 2.5 per day, according to the report. Some 12.4% of all military suicides in 2017 were in this population, according to the report.
Overall in 2017, the suicide rate among veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults, after adjusting for differences in the age and sex of the population, according to the report.
The report and an accompanying statement by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie pointed out that the veteran suicide crisis goes beyond the VA’s ability to cope with it and needs to be targeted as part of a coordinated approach with local, state and private partners.
“VA strives to prevent suicide among all veterans, whether or not they are enrolled in VA health care,” Wilkie said. “This is why the ministry has taken a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, using clustered strategies that cut across various sectors – faith communities, employers, schools and health care organizations, for example – to reach veterans where they live and thrive. “
The new approach was “to reach out to all veterans, even those who don’t come and may never come to us for care,” Wilkie said.
In his cover letter for the report, Dr Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said of suicide prevention: “We can’t do it alone; we call on our community partners to join us in this effort.
“We will only be successful in preventing suicide if we break this work down into actionable and manageable steps,” Stone said.
The full report and accompanying status sheets are available here.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
– Richard Sisk can be reached at [email protected].
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