February 18, 2013. Washington. A new report released earlier this month by the Veterans Administration shows that suicides among veterans has risen from an average of 18 per day to 22 per day. The details also show that suicides among regular Americans are also escalating. For all self-inflicted deaths across the US, some 22.2 percent are carried out by veterans. At the same time, Vets make up just 7 percent of the overall population.
Vets age 50 and over make up the largest demographic of Veteran suicides.
Suicide among Veterans
That’s the title of a section of the latest VA report detailing suicides among veterans. ‘Of the 147,763 suicides reported in 21 states, 27,062 (18.3%) were identified as having history of US military service on death certificates,’ the report states, ‘Among cases where history of US military service was reported, Veterans comprised approximately 22.2% of all suicides reported during the project period.’
The VA goes on to put a specific number on the tragic statistics writing, ‘If this prevalence estimate is assumed to be constant across all US states, an estimated 22 Veterans will have died from suicide each day in the calendar year 2010.’
A closer look
The VA study goes on to shed some light on the overall US suicide rate. Without giving any specific numbers, the report states, ‘While the percentage of all suicides reported as Veterans has decreased, the number of suicides has increased.’ That means more veterans are committing suicide every day. But they’re making up a smaller percentage of all suicides because non-Veteran Americans are committing suicide at an even faster rate and in ever greater numbers.
The report analyzed death certificates from across the country over a span of two years with much of the data coming from 2010. One surprise finding of the study is the fact that the biggest demographic of Vet suicides isn’t those recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. While those numbers are tragically high in their own right, Vets age 50 and over make up the highest number of Veteran suicides.
‘A majority of Veteran suicides are among those age 50 years and older,’ the study found, ‘Male Veterans who die by suicide are older than non-Veteran males who die by suicide. The age distribution of Veteran and non-Veteran women who have died from suicide is similar.’
Opposite takes on the same results
As is typically the case, officials from the Veterans Administration, including the study’s lead author Robert Bossarte, are downplaying the results and the increase in Vet suicides. As detailed by CBS DC, Bossarte remarked, “There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true. The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.”
Taking the opposite position is Ret. Col. And Army psychiatrist Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. The retired Army Colonel took issue not with the VA’s study or its conclusions, but the minimal token effort the federal agency puts forth to address the problem. “If the VA wants to get its arms around the problem, why does it have such a small number of people working on it? This is a start, but it is a faint start. It is not enough.”
Two years ago, the VA released statistics on veteran suicides and the numbers weren’t as bad as this month’s announcement. It’s obvious things are getting worse, not better. At that time, it was revealed that 16 US veterans were committing suicide every single day. That compares to 22 today. The VA has taken some steps to solve the crisis. In 2007, the agency installed a suicide hotline for Vets. At the time, it was receiving over 14,000 calls per month.
One suggestion Veterans and their families are suggesting is that returning war wounded not be automatically declined their benefits. Forced to repeatedly appeal the VA’s refusal to pay out disability and other medical benefits to Vets, a process that takes as long as a year or more, a staggering 20,000 Vets die each year waiting for benefits they’ll never receive.