En español | Veterans are taking their own lives at alarming rates, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA’s National Suicide Report analyzes veteran suicides from 2005 to 2016 — an update of the VA’s June report, which only included data through 2015. The findings are sobering.
Veterans, according to the report, were 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than nonveterans during this time period. And women veterans have been particularly vulnerable, with a suicide rate nearly double that for nonveteran women.
Among the findings:
- Veterans ages 55 to 74 had the highest incidence of suicide, 58.1 percent of all veteran suicide deaths in 2016.
- There were more than 6,000 veteran suicides a year in the 11 years analyzed.
- Almost 70 percent of veteran suicides involved a gun, compared to about 48 percent on nonveteran suicides.
- The suicide rate for veterans ages 18 to 34 increased significantly between 2015 and 2016, from 40.4 deaths per 100,000 to 45 per 100,000.
The VA and other veterans advocates consider veteran suicide a major public health concern. In March the White House passed an executive order granting free mental health services for the first year of a veteran’s transition from active duty.
And AMVETS, a nonprofit veterans service organization, teamed up with the VA this year to create the HEAL Program (Health care, Evaluation, Advocacy and Legislation) dedicated to helping veterans in crisis and to advocate for more attention on Capitol Hill to the high suicide rate.
One hurdle for advocates is veterans’ frequent reluctance to ask for help, says Lana McKenzie, AMVETS' chief medical executive. “A veteran is trained to be tough. You don’t want to put the burden on someone else.”
But there is plenty of help to be had, including a VA crisis hotline at 800-273-8255, also accessible by text at 838255. Deaf or hearing impaired veterans can call 800-799-4889.
AMVETS has a toll-free number staffed by professional nurses from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day — 833-VET-HEAL (833-838-4325) — where veterans can get assistance with finding mental health and many other services. AMVETS encourages friends and family members to reach out as well, if they are concerned that a veteran may be in trouble. "I don't care if you call anonymously," says McKenzie. "We give them a call and let them know we care."
The message for veterans, she adds, is, “You’ve served. Now we’re here to serve you. You don’t have to go it alone.”