A U.S. Marine places a wreath on a headstone at Bern National Cemetery in New Bern, N.C., as part of Wreaths Across America Day held Dec. 15, 2012, in honor of fallen veterans. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
An estimated 22 military veterans commit suicide every day in this country, according to a new comprehensive report that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released Friday.
Based on the study, the number of veterans who commit suicide rose by 20 percent compared with six years ago, though the increase mirrors recent trends in the overall rate, which has grown by 11 percent nationwide.
“This VA suicide report is the most important piece of data to be released since 2007,” said Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that he founded to represent fellow veterans.
“The report data shows that veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up from 18 per day in 2007,” Rieckhoff said. “Our leaders in Washington, D.C., need to accelerate efforts to shrink wait times for mental health care and find more creative solutions like the Veteran Crisis Line.”
Since August 2012, VA officials have ramped up hiring and training additional staff for the Veteran Crisis Line by 50 percent.
According to officials, the Veteran Crisis Line has made approximately 26,000 rescues of actively suicidal veterans to date. Additionally, the VA has initiated a yearlong public awareness campaign, “Stand By Them,” to educate families and friends on how to seek help for veterans and service members in crisis.
Although there has been a lot of attention on data concerning service members who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, the report shows nearly 70 percent of veterans who commit suicide are older than 50 years old.
While praising the inroads made through the Veteran Crisis Line, Rieckhoff said the “country should be outraged that we are allowing this tragedy to continue."
“As veterans, we at IAVA understand the spectrum of challenges facing veterans transitioning home, including the struggle with invisible wounds,” he said. “One thing is clear, we need more research and more collaboration.”
In the past, data on veterans who died by suicide were only available for those who had sought VA health care services.
The report released this week, however, also includes state data for veterans who had not received health care services through any VA hospital.
VA officials said they are hoping this information will help improve suicide prevention efforts already underway through the department, including other initiatives that involve states working with the federal government to better assess specific populations that need targeted interventions.
“The mental health and well being of our courageous men and women who have served the nation is the highest priority for the VA, and even one suicide is one too many,” said Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We have more work to do,” he said, “and we will use this data to continue to strengthen our suicide prevention efforts and ensure all veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.”