Suicide rates up for younger veterans

Jonathan Kaupanger
September 26, 2018 - 12:04 pm

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Young veterans are dying by suicide faster than any other group, although overall, veteran suicide is down slightly according to a new updated National Suicide Data Report from Veterans Affairs.

The rate of suicide for veterans is still 1 1/2 times that of civilians, but for women veterans, the rate is almost double (1.8 times) that as females who've never served. 

The new information comes with a change in how VA is reporting veteran suicide.  The agency is no longer highlighting the average number of suicides per day.  Instead, the latest data concentrates on suicide counts and rates among the various populations. 

In 2016, veterans accounted for 14 percent of all adult deaths by suicide in the United States.  Between 2015 and 2016 the overall veteran suicide count decreased from 6,281 deaths in 2015 to 6,079 deaths in 2016.

The age group that represents the highest rate of veteran suicide continues to be those age 55 – 74, however that number did not increase between 2015 and 2016.  But the suicide rates for veterans age 18 – 34 increased substantially, going from 40.4 suicide deaths per every 100,000 people in 2015 up to 45 deaths in 2016. 

When compared to the civilian population, the veteran suicide rate was 1.5 times higher.  For women veterans, the suicide rate was 1.8 times that as non-veteran women.  The rate of suicide for male veterans was 1.4 times that as civilian men.

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Firearms continue to be associated with the highest rate of veteran suicide mortality.  The most common methods of suicide according to the 2016 report:

Men:

  • 70.6% gun
  • 27.8% suffocation
  • 10.6% poisoning

Women

  • 41.2% gun
  • 30.4% poisoning
  • 19.8% suffocation

Veterans recently using VHA services had higher rates of suicide than those who did not use VA health care.  This is most likely due to the fact that veterans using VA services have physical and mental health care needs such as mental health challenges, substance use disorders, chronic medical conditions and chronic pain. These issues are associated with an increased risk for suicide according to the report.

This new data is used to drive VA’s suicide prevention strategy.  Earlier this year, VA and DoD released the Joint Action Plan as a way to provide seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for service members transitioning out of the military. 

In June, the agency announced a collaboration with PsychArmor Institute, a national nonprofit that provides online education and support for anyone who works, lives or cares for veterans.  Through this partnership, anyone can access S.A.V.E., which is an online suicide-prevention training video designed to equip anyone who interacts with veterans who could be at risk for suicide.  And at the start of suicide prevention month this year, VA released the Be There campaign to help highlight risk factors and warning signs of suicide and to help people just #BeThere when it counts.

The full updated report can be found here

If you are a veteran in crisis or having thoughts of suicide — and anyone who knows a veteran in crisis — should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text to 838255.

            Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com