Female veterans are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population of women. This alarming rate of suicide is so high that it approaches the suicide rate for male veterans, which every expert in the field says is also tragically high. The suicide rate for military women is highest among those 18 to 29 years old.
Female Veteran Suicide Attempts Are More Likely to Be Successful
Female veterans are also, unfortunately, much more likely to be successful in their suicide attempts than other women, because the vets are more likely to use guns. “One reason is that female veterans are more comfortable with firearms — it’s part of the culture,” said Caitlin Thompson, VA’s deputy director for suicide prevention. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “in the general population, women attempt suicide more often than men but succeed less because women usually use pills or other methods that are less lethal than firearms. Female veterans, however, are more likely than other women to have guns, government surveys have shown.”
Sexual Assualt May Be a Contributing Factor, but There Are Other Causes as Well
The reasons for the high female suicide rate are not well understood, but the speculation is that sexual assault while in the military is a major causal factor. In a 2012 Department of Defense survey nearly 23% of active duty women reported that they had been the victims of sexual assault while in the service.
VA experts are now probing deeper into this problem to find better ways to deter suicide among female vets. In the meantime they are offering education and free gun locks at VA hospitals. The VA is also trying to enlist the support of the public in reaching out to all veterans, and women specifically through the VA’s Power of One campaign. “The campaign emphasizes the effect that just one person, one conversation, or one act can have on the life of a veteran or service member by offering hope and opening the door to support," said Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, Interim Under Secretary for Health. "It also is designed to spread the word about VA and DoD mental health resources and suicide prevention efforts." “One small act can change the life of a veteran,” Ms. Thompson said.