The statistics are sad and troubling: about 20 veterans a day commit suicide and veterans are twice as likely to take their own life as those in the general public. This is according to a new report issued earlier this month and based on the most comprehensive study of veterans and suicide ever undertaken by the VA. In this study the VA looked at the medical records of 55 million veterans from 1979 to 2014 (the most recent year that data is available). In 2014 more than 7,400 veterans died by their own hand which represents 18% of all suicides in the U.S., even though veterans only make up about 9% of the American population.

In a press release, the VA also revealed these additional key findings:

  • “65% of all Veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older. 
  • Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults. This is a decrease from 22% in 2010.
  • Since 2001, U.S. adult civilian suicides increased 23%, while veteran suicides increased 32% in the same time period.  After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21% greater for veterans.”

On a hopeful note, the study shows that VA medical care is making a difference. Those who received care from the VA had lower suicide rates.

  • “Since 2001, the rate of suicide among US veterans who use VA services increased by 8.8%, while the rate of suicide among veterans who do not use VA services increased by 38.6%.
  • In the same time period, the rate of suicide among male veterans who use VA services increased 11%, while the rate of suicide increased 35% among male veterans who do not use VA services.
  • In the same time period, the rate of suicide among female veterans who use VA services increased 4.6%, while the rate of suicide increased 98% among female veterans who do not use VA services.”

The value of this survey was underscored by VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David J. Shulkin, who said in a press release, “One veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy. We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero."

Among other initiatives, the VA is trying to reduce the stigma of seeking mental healthcare. All too often vets try to solve their problems by themselves, because they don’t want to appear weak. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, in a conference call Shulkin observed, “The stigmatization of mental health issues is a barrier to access.” He added that “The VA has attempted to remove this stigma by creating forums, such as Make the Connection for veterans to share their stories with an audience of their peers.”

The most important take away from this report, is that help is available to veterans and it is working. The Monitor reported that “since 2014 the VA has redoubled its efforts to help veterans in need of mental healthcare. The VA has created public awareness campaigns about the problem of suicide and created a crisis line (1-800-273-8255) that veterans can call if they need help.”

If you or someone you care about is a vet grappling with pressures that seem to be unbearable we at Cuddigan Law encourage you to reach out to your local VA medical provider or to call the crisis line.

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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