Veterans have already served in difficult circumstances, but returning home doesn’t always make things easier. Some veterans constantly replay their service in a combat zone and many things can trigger these stressful memories. This may lead a veteran toward a path that results in them deciding to take their own life.
According to data from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, about 22 US veterans every day choose to take their own life.
The reasons for suicide don’t always relate to the stresses of combat. Some veterans have trouble coming back to home life. Other soldiers see their families leave them because of them constantly being away in service. Still others come back from war, are discharged from the military, and can’t find a good paying job. The sad fact is that one of the proudest moments for a soldier also becomes one of the most difficult.
- Male veterans under 30 saw a 44% increase in the rate of suicides – that’s a rate of two veterans per day.
- The rate of veterans suicide has remained largely unchanged over the last three-year period where data is available [2009-2011].
- Female veterans saw an 11 percent increase in their suicide rate.
- Of the 22 deaths a day, only about five are patients in the health system.
- Two of the largest communities of veteran populations, in California and Texas, did not have their data reported in these statistics.
- A veteran decides to end their own life once every 65 minutes.
- 30% of all US veterans have considered suicide at least once within the past year.
- Veterans who die from a drug overdose or by intentionally crashing a vehicle without a suicide note are not always counted in the suicide statistics.
On the surface, the data on veteran suicides looks to be rather stable. Although 22 veterans per day committing suicide is tragic, the rates haven’t increased over the last 3 year period despite prolonged periods of conflict. When one starts digging into the actual data, however, the statistics are actually incomplete. Only 40% of the total veteran population has been analyzed to obtain this data and the largest population centers of veterans has been excluded from the data. Combine that with a vast amount of veterans who are dying in places like Texas in intentional ways, but not being counted as suicides, and it appears that this data is being manipulated for the benefit of the general public.
How Serious Is The Problem Of Veteran Suicides?
- An independent review of veteran suicide data found that the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population.
- The annual suicide rate for the general population: 14 for every 100,000 people.
- The analysis of records from 48 states found that the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6% a year from 2005 to 2011.
- Every year, the veteran rates of suicide are more than double the rate of civilian suicides.
- Nearly 1 in 5 suicides in the United States is a veteran, even though veterans make up about 10% of the U.S. population.
- More than 34,000 suicides from the 21 states that reported data to the VA for official statistics were discarded because the state death records failed to indicate whether the deceased was a veteran.
- The ability of death certificates to fully capture female veterans was particularly low as only 67% of true female veterans were identified.
In obtaining the official number of suicides for the VA study that was released from 2009-2011, here’s a hidden statistic that must be noted: 23% of the suicides that were sent by states to be included in the data were discarded. This means that 1 out of every 4 suicides that actually happened was not counted. This means that the data on veteran suicides is more than alarming. It is happening at epidemic proportions and 11 states hadn’t even released official data to the VA. When independent resources are utilized, one fact is inescapable: veterans commit suicide at double the rate of the civilian population. That’s something that needs to be fixed.
Veteran Suicides Are Not Just For The Young
- More than 69% of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older.
- 45% of veterans in a recent survey said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.
- Between October 2006 and June 2013, the Veterans Crisis Line received more than 890,000 calls – and that does not count text conversations or online chats.
- Veterans over the age of 50 who had entered the VA healthcare system made up about 78% of the total number of veterans who committed suicide.
- Injuries to limbs, migraine headaches, or any other condition that carries with it chronic pain all increase a person’s risk of suicide.
- With treatment and available interventions, 75% of the veterans who had actually attempted suicide had their future risk of a suicide attempted reduced by 60%.
- 23% of young women who report to the VA for health care report being the victim of a sexual assault while on active duty.
- 58% of women and 38% of men state that they experienced some form of sexual harassment while they were serving.
- Because of the high male population of the military, more than half of all military sexual traumas happen to men, even though its prevalence is more common in women.
Why are the suicide rates so high for older veterans? One of the most likely explanations is the fact that the VA wasn’t even created until some veterans were in their 40′s – those who fought in Korea, for example. The Korean War was one of the worst that the US has ever faced from a combat standpoint. They were bloody, fought in difficult, cold conditions, and death rates were extremely high for soldiers who were forced to engage. This is also before the time that issues like PTSD were even considered. If you speak to the average older veteran, especially those who fought in Korea, you will find that many don’t want to speak about what happened to them. These are the veterans that are at a great risk of ending their own lives.
Suicide Rates Are Higher For All Middle Aged Demographics
- The CDC has found that the number of middle-aged Americans who took their own lives was up more than 28%.
- Annual suicide rates among U.S. adults aged 35 to 64 increased from 13.7 to 17.6 suicides per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2010.
- The greatest increases in suicide rates were among people aged 50 to 54 years (48%) and 55 to 59 years (49%).
- Eight million Americans report suicidal thoughts, and 1.1 million will attempt suicide.
- Men commit suicide at a 4 to 1 ratio compared to women.
- The suicide rate jumped higher for women (32%) than for men (27%).
- Those who are less stable in their personal lives are also less stable in the workforce and this contributes to the formation of suicidal thoughts.
- 30% of Vietnam-era veterans are believed to have suffered from PTSD in at least one point during their lives.
The issue here is that many Americans that are middle-aged are struggling more today. With Middle Class wages in the United States stagnant for 30 years, many of the people in the 50-59 age demographic have been working their entire lives and have achieved no real gains because of that. Although there are no statistics to prove it, this must be a contributing factor to the development of suicidal thoughts. When you plug a veteran into the mix, a soldier who has seen things that the average civilian never sees, it is completely understandable to have suicide rates be doubled in almost every age demographic. It is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach if we are going to be able to solve this problem.
How Can The Government Start Battling This Epidemic?
- More than 2,000 veterans committed suicide in Q1 2014.
- Legislation has been introduced that includes provisions to force the Pentagon to reexamine troops who were discharged for PTSD-related behaviors that include flashbacks, nightmares, and suicidal thoughts.
- Expanding a veterans’ eligibility to enroll in VA health care from five to 15 years after leaving the military may also have benefits.
- Nearly $6 billion has been removed from the pensions of veterans over the last several budget cycles by Congress.
- A 24/7 crisis line that was started by the VA claims that it has been able to save over 35,000 lives since it was started.
- The VA expanded its mental-health funding by 64% between 2009 and 2014.
- The number of new mental health workers that have become employed by the VA since the beginning of 2012: 2,400.
- Attempting a suicide is currently considered a crime for active duty personnel.
It is good to see that there are steps being taken to help give veterans the assistance that they need, but let’s not forget about the fact that younger veterans have seen a tripling in their suicide rates in some demographics. These are veterans that aren’t eligible for VA services. They are people who have tremendous needs that aren’t necessarily being met by the military because they are being discharged for being “mentally unfit.” How did they become unfit? Because of their military service and the combat situations that they encountered. With up to a 15 year window before a veteran can receive services, is it any wonder why so many veterans are struggling to make a life for themselves when they return from combat?
Is There Any Way To Remove The Stigma Of Suicide?
- At least 20% of the 2.3 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or Depression.
- 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment for their condition.
- Out of those who do seek treatment, only 1 in 2 will find adequate treatment that can begin to address their needs.
- 7% of veterans have both post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury [TBI].
- Up to 19% of veterans may have a TBI that is not associated with a form of PTSD.
- Two thirds of the cases of PTSD originate from veterans who have served in the Army.
- 39% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan report struggling with alcohol abuse after returning from their combat theater.
- More active duty personnel died by their own hand than personnel who were killed in combat in 2012.
- The branch of the military that sees the lowest levels of PTSD: the Air Force at 9%.
- 3% of current veterans admit to drug abuse as a means of being able to cope with stressful feelings and emotions.
- The rate of PTSD in the general civilian population: 3.6%.
- Women are 2.5x more likely to develop PTSD in any given situation compared to men.
- About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year.
It doesn’t seem to be generalized combat that is causing PTSD and the high suicide rates in today’s veterans and active duty military personnel. It is the type of combat that is being seen. When a soldier feels like they are out of control over the circumstances of their life and that they can be killed at any moment, then the stress of that situation is going to cause some people to break at some point, either while on duty or later on at home. By being able to remove the stigma of suicide and openly discuss the risks with US veterans, the warning signs and symptoms of PTSD can be directly addressed and lives can be potentially saved.