Veteran suicides continue to be a horrific issue in our country.
Almost one out of every five suicides in the U.S. is a veteran, though veterans only make up about 10 percent of the U.S. population.
The latest numbers indicate that there may be as many as 22 veterans committing suicide each day, or one suicide every 65 minutes. Former defense secretary Leon Panetta says the service member suicide rate is “an epidemic.”
A report by the Department of Veterans Affairs released in February 2013 looked at data reported from 21 states between 1999 and the end of 2011. But the numbers may be even higher, as many vets are missing from the official reports of vet suicides. There is no uniform reporting system of which veteran deaths were suicide-related in the U.S. A coroner or funeral director typically enters the veteran status of the deceased and that the manner of death was suicide on the death certificate. If a veteran dies in a manner that may nor may not be suicide, the incident may go under accidental death. Additionally, when a homeless person commits suicide, his or her veterans status might not be known in that community, and the stigma of suicide in some families and some communities may mean that the manner of death is not divulged or the coroner may be pressured to not list the cause of death as suicide. Veteran status is not verified or followed up by the VA or the Defense Department. Capturing accurate information is an ongoing issue.
A report released by a journalism student program, News21, states that the suicide rate for veterans annually is approximately 30 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of the civilian population (14 per 100,000), and it was also increasing at an accelerated rate compared to civilian suicides. From the 48 states they studied, they found that the suicide rate for vets was increasing an average of 2.6 percent each year, from 2005 to 2011, twice the rate of civilian suicide increase.
Though veteran suicides are happening among men and women, older vets and those who have just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 70 percent of vet suicides are being committed by those who were 50 and older. Vet mental health advocates currently think that the high levels for that cohort is a combination of Vietnam vets with ongoing combat stress who did not receive adequate support when they returned home, and men who have raised their children to adulthood.