Veteran suicides fell to their lowest level in 12 years in 2019, down more than one death per day from levels a year earlier, according to new data released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Despite this, the suicide rate among veterans remains almost double that of the rest of the U.S. population, accounting for more than 32,000 deaths from 2015 to 2019, the latest data available.
Veterans Affairs officials called the news a significant improvement, but acknowledged the work that remained to be done.
âSuicide prevention remains a top priority for VA, with the largest amount of resources ever allocated and allocated to VA suicide prevention,â VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. âSuicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play in saving lives. “
Federal data on suicide rates has been two years behind current conditions, and VA’s latest report does not include any records of the pandemic, which mental health experts say could worsen mental health problems and lead to suicidal thoughts in individuals.
VA officials said to date they had not observed an increase in “documented indicators of suicide” during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020.
The 6,261 veteran suicide deaths in 2019 are 399 less than in 2018 and equivalent to about 17 per day. That figure is far lower than the oft-cited “22 a day” statistic for veteran suicide, which was based on an estimate used by VA officials a decade ago.
Taking into account active duty military, reservists and other associated groups, the total is closer to 20 per day.
The last time the total number of veteran suicide deaths fell below 6,200 was in 2007, when it was 6,174. It peaked in 2014 at 6,587.
Department researchers noted that the decline in veteran suicides has exceeded reductions in the general American public. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national suicide rate has fallen 2.1%. Among veterans, it was down about 7%.
âI think you see the manifestation of fundamental truths in suicide prevention; number one, that suicide is preventable, âsaid Dr. Matt Miller, director of the VA Suicide Prevention Program. âThere are evidence-based programs, intervention actions that can be taken in clinical settings and in the community that can make a significant difference. “
VA officials, lawmakers, and community advocates have made suicide prevention a priority of departmental activities in recent years, with major increases in mental health resources, outreach programs, and community partnerships on the issue. question.
The decline was particularly pronounced among female veterans. Authorities said they saw an almost 15% drop in suicide deaths among female veterinarians, after adjusting for age.
But suicide remains a significantly higher threat to veterans than the rest of the American population. CDC data shows the suicide death rate for all Americans in 2019 was 16.8 per 100,000 people. Among veterans that year, it was 31.6 per 100,000.
Suicide prevention officials have also seen a steady increase in the use of firearms in suicide deaths in recent years, a worrying trend. About 70% of all deaths in 2019 were due to guns.
Miller said the department has already rolled out new gun safety training to address this issue, including new public service advertisements.
The full report is available on the ministry’s website.
Veterans facing a mental health emergency can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select Option 1 for a VA staff member. Veterans, soldiers or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net help.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.