VA report: Suicide rate among younger veterans increased from 2015 to 2016
WASHINGTON – The number of suicides among younger veterans increased “substantially” from 2015 to 2016, according to a new report to be released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new VA National Suicide Data Report, which shows that suicide among veterans continues to be higher than the rest of the population, reveals younger veterans are particularly at risk. For every 100,000 veterans age 18 to 34, 45 committed suicide in 2016 – up from 40.4 for every 100,000 in 2015.
“It confirms what we’ve been seeing anecdotally,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “It’s a wave we’ve been seeing for years and trying to sound the alarm on.”
The suicide rate also increased among female veterans from 2015 to 2016, the data shows. The suicide rate for female veterans is 1.8 times greater than for other women.
Overall, there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. Veterans accounted for 14 percent of all suicides in the United States in 2016, yet veterans make up only 8 percent of the population, the VA found.
In 2016, guns were used in nearly 70 percent of veteran suicides. For the rest of the population, firearms were used in 48 percent of suicides that year.
“The issues we have to be courageous enough to talk through include access to guns,” Rieckhoff said. “A real conversation around that is overdue.”
In previous years, the VA determined the average number of veteran suicides each day, the last of which was calculated at 20 per day in 2014 – an often-cited statistic. The VA stopped that practice with this newest report, because the statistic is “commonly misinterpreted.”
The release of the report coincides with a hearing scheduled by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for Thursday, when lawmakers are slated to discuss veteran suicide and the country’s suicide-prevention efforts.
In the report, the VA described veteran suicide as an “urgent crisis” that the agency can’t address alone.
“Because many veterans do not use VA services and benefits, we must build networks of support, communication and care across the communities where veterans live and thrive,” the report states.
The data helps the VA and other advocates tailor suicide-prevention initiatives to reach the most-affected groups of veterans, the report states.
Rieckhoff sees the new report as a call to action.
“We’ve never really had the president stand up and say, ‘This is a national health priority. This is a national security priority,’” Rieckhoff said. “We think that’s what’s going to be necessary to mobilize the country. The issue is, can we get people to pay attention and get involved?”