Veteran suicides dropped to lowest level in 12 years

Veteran suicides dropped to lowest level in 12 years
© Greg Nash

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) released a report this week that found veteran suicides recorded in 2019 were the lowest number observed in 12 years.

According to the VA's report, 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019. The number of annual veteran suicides had not dipped below 6,400 since 2007 when around 6,200 suicides were reported. Overall, the veteran suicide rate fell by seven percent in 2019.

There was an average of about 17 veteran suicides a day in 2019.

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The agency noted that between 2018 and 2019, the U.S. population overall saw a decrease in suicides, falling by nearly two percent among non-veterans. There were 399 fewer veteran suicides in 2019 than there were in 2018.

In 2019, the suicide rate among female veterans fell by 13 percent and among male veterans it fell by four percent.

The VA did not observe an increase in suicide behavior among veterans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though it noted that there was a possibility of a "negative rebound effect" in the next few years to the impact of the pandemic.

"Although VA is heartened that 399 fewer Veterans died by suicide in 2019 compared to 2018, VA is poignantly and painfully mindful that 6,261 Veterans died by suicide in 2019," the VA said in its report. "While the differential in adjusted suicide rates between Veterans and non-Veterans decreased from its high of being 66.3% greater in 2017, the fact remains that Veterans in 2019 reflected a suicide rate 52.3% higher than non-Veterans in the U.S."

Veterans between the age of 55 and 74 represented the largest subgroup of suicides, accounting for roughly 39 percent of veteran suicides.

“Suicide prevention remains a top priority for VA, with the most significant amount of resources ever appropriated and apportioned to VA suicide prevention,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year VA secretary pledges to house hundreds of homeless veterans in LA by end of year Expats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines MORE said in a statement to the Military Times. “Suicide is preventable, and everyone has a role to play in saving lives.”

After Kabul fell to the Taliban in mid-August, the VA's crisis hotline saw a 9 percent uptick in calls.

“There has been a significant increase and VA is doing everything to connect our Veterans to the care they have earned and deserve,” the department's public affairs specialist Gary Kunich told The Hill at the time.

At the end of August, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to the VA, urging the agency to develop an outreach program for veterans struggling with their mental health following the end of the war in Afghanistan.

“More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the Department accelerate its efforts to provide resources – to veterans of these recent conflicts," they added.