Veteran Suicide Rate Still Rising

Megan Brooks

June 19, 2018

Suicide rates increased among veterans from 2005 to 2015, according to the latest national suicide data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), released this week.

In 2015, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day, the report notes, a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2005.

The VA report comes on the heels of a report released earlier this month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed "alarming" increases in suicides among civilians.

As reported by Medscape Medical News, between 1999 and 2016, half of the states saw at least a 30% increase in suicide rates. Overall, there were almost 45,000 total deaths by suicide in 2016 alone, the CDC reported.

Taken together, the findings "underscore the magnitude of suicide among all Americans and the need for concerted national public health approaches with participation from the federal government, state and local governments, and community partners," the VA says in its new report.

One life lost to suicide is one too many. Peter O'Rourke

"Suicide remains a top clinical priority," Acting VA Secretary Peter O'Rourke commented in a news release. "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."

The latest VA report expands on prior analyses of veteran suicide and examines mortality records from 2005 to 2015 from all 50 states and Washington, DC. The analysis is part of the VA's ongoing examination of more than 55 million civilian and veteran death records that is being used to evaluate and improve the VA's Suicide Prevention Program.

The study's key findings include the following:

  • In 2015, veterans accounted for 14.3% of all deaths by suicide among US adults and made up 8.3% of the US adult population. Overall, general trends in veteran suicide reported through 2014 remained consistent through 2015.

  • The burden of suicide resulting from firearm injuries remains high among veterans. In 2015, the percentage of suicide deaths that involved firearms remained unchanged from 2014, at 67%.

  • After adjusting for differences in age, the rate of suicide in 2015 was 2.1 times higher among veterans than among nonveteran adults. The suicide rate in 2015 was 1.3 times higher among male veterans than among nonveteran adult men and 2.0 higher among female veterans than among nonveteran adult women.

  • Rates of suicide in 2015 were highest among younger veterans (aged 18 to 34 years) and lowest among older veterans (aged 55 years and older). However, veterans aged 55 and older accounted for 58.1% of all veteran suicide deaths in 2015.

  • In 2015, an average of 20.6 active-duty service members, nonactivated National Guard or Army Reserve members, and other veterans died by suicide each day.

  • Suicide rates increased for veteran and nonveteran populations from 2005 to 2015. Among veterans, rates increased faster among those who had not recently used Veterans Health Administration healthcare than among those who had.

"VA is committed to doing everything possible to prevent suicide among all veterans, including those not directly using VA services, and to spread the word that suicide prevention is everyone's business," the VA said in its report.

It should be noted, they said, that suicide data in this report do not reflect the "substantial increase in VA national suicide prevention efforts since the end of 2015."

The VA said it is working to prevent veteran suicides through "intensive efforts to enhance a broad public health approach, improve risk identification through enhanced screening and predictive modeling, expand effective treatments and engagement strategies, support innovative research, and establish effective partnerships."

"Ongoing collection, analysis, and dissemination of suicide-related data are critical for understanding veteran suicide and informing suicide prevention initiatives," the agency said.

The VA is also working with the CDC and the US Department of Defense to "innovate and refine" the data analysis and plans to publish 2016 veteran suicide data this fall.

The VA National Suicide Data Report 2005-2015 is available online. Also available online is information about the VA's suicide prevention resources and programs.

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