United States military veteran suicide

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United States military veteran suicide[1][2] is an ongoing phenomenon regarding a reportedly high rate of suicide among U.S. military veterans, in comparison to the general public.[3] According to the most recent report published by the VA in 2016, which analyzed 55 million veterans' records from 1979 to 2014, the current analysis indicates that an average of 20 veterans a day die from suicide.[4]


In 2012, an estimated 6,500 former military personnel died by suicide. More veterans succumbed to suicide than were killed in Iraq: 177 active-duty soldiers died by suicide compared to 176 soldiers killed in combat. In 2012, the study concluded that the Army had the highest number of suicides compared to any other service branch.[1]

In 2013, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes.[5] Some sources suggest that this rate may be undercounting suicides.[6] A recent analysis found a suicide rate among veterans of about 30 per 100,000 population per year, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000.[6][7] However, the comparison was not adjusted for age and sex.

The total number of suicides differs by age group; 31% of these suicides were by veterans 49 and younger while 69% were by veterans aged 50 and older.[8] As with suicides in general, suicide of veterans is primarily male, with about 97 percent of the suicides being male in the states that reported gender.[7]

In 2015, the Clay Hunt Veterans Suicide Prevention Act passed in the Senate[9] and was then enacted as Pub.L. 114–2 on February 12, 2015.

Annual number of suicides per 100,000 population. 2000-2010.[10][11]
Never served
in military
Veterans and
active service
Women 5.2 28.7
Men 20.9 32.1

In August 2016, the VA released a new report which consisted of the nation's largest analysis of veteran suicide. The report reviewed more than 55 million veterans' records from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation. The previous report from 2012 was primarily limited to data on veterans who used VHA health services or from mortality records obtained directly from 20 states and approximately 3 million records. Compared to the data from the 2012 report, which estimated the number of Veteran deaths by suicide to be 22 per day, the current analysis indicates that in 2014, an average of 20 veterans a day died from suicide.[12]

US Social Policy History of Veteran Suicide Prevention

The first suicide prevention center in the United States was opened in Los Angeles in 1958 with funding from the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1966, the Center for Studies of Suicide Prevention (later the Suicide Research Unit) was established at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Later on, in 1970, the NIMH pushed in Phoenix the discussion about the status of suicide prevention, presented relevant findings about suicide rate and identified the future directions and priorities of the topic.[13]

However, it wasn't until mid-1990s when suicide started being the central issue of the political-social agenda of the United States. Survivors from suicide began to mobilize encouraging the development of a national strategy for suicide prevention. Finally, two Congressional Resolutions t—S. Res. 84 and H. Res. 212 of the 105th Congress—recognizing suicide as a national problem and suicide prevention as a national priority[13]

As recommended in the U.N. guidelines, these groups set out to establish a public and private partnership that would be responsible for promoting suicide prevention in the United States. This innovative public-private partnership jointly sponsored a national consensus conference on suicide prevention in Reno, Nevada, which developed a list of 81 recommendations[13]

Key Points From Reno, Nevada, Conference[13]

  1. Suicide prevention must recognize and affirm the value, dignity, and importance of each person.
  2. Suicide is not solely the result of illness or inner conditions. The feelings of hopelessness that contribute to suicide can stem from societal conditions and attitudes. Therefore, everyone concerned with suicide prevention shares a responsibility to help change attitudes and eliminate the conditions of oppression, racism, homophobia, discrimination, and prejudice.
  3. Some groups are disproportionately affected by these societal conditions, and some are at greater risk for suicide.
  4. Individuals, communities, organizations, and leaders at all levels should collaborate to promote suicide prevention.
  5. The success of this strategy ultimately rests with individuals and communities across the United States.

Federal Policy Initiatives

One of the most important laws about Veterans' Suicide Prevention is the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (JOVSPA) of 2007, supporting the creation of a comprehensive program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. Named for a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who died by suicide in 2005, the act directed the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement a comprehensive suicide prevention program for veterans. Components include staff education, mental health assessments as part of overall health assessments, a suicide prevention coordinator at each VA medical facility, research efforts, 24-hour mental health care, a toll-free crisis line, and outreach to and education for veterans and their families. In the summer of 2009, VA added a one-to-one “chat service” for veterans who prefer to reach out for assistance using the Internet.[13]

In 2010, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention was created and, in 2012, the National Strategy was revised. With Obama’s administration suicide prevention strategies for veterans expanded and a goal was formed to make the process of finding and obtaining mental health resources easier for veterans, work to retain and recruit mental health professionals, and make the government programs more accountable for the people they serve.[14][15]

Federal Budget

The Federal Government is promising to allocate $350 million in the federal budget to help prevent suicide among war veterans. The multimillion-dollar package would be the biggest federal funding injection in decades, and would go towards existing services, suicide prevention programs and better data collection, Minister for Veteran's Affairs Dan Tehan said. The money is to be set aside targeting a raft of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. The money would also target substance abuse and alcoholism.[16]


A study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine found that,

Combat veterans are not only more likely to have suicidal ideation, often associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, but they are more likely to act on a suicidal plan. Especially since veterans may be less likely to seek help from a mental health professional, non-mental-health physicians are in a key position to screen for PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation in these patients.

The same study also found that in veterans with PTSD related to combat experience, combat-related guilt may be a significant predictor of suicidal ideation and attempts.[17]

Craig Bryan of the University of Utah National Center for Veterans Studies said that veterans have the same risk factors for suicide as the general population, including feelings of depression, hopelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, a history of trauma, and access to firearms.[7]


Critics of this reporting such as author Tim Worstall in Feb. 2013 claim that there is no epidemic when comparing similar demographic cohorts in the civilian population. He points out that since vets are predominantly male, the suicide rate to compare to is not the general civilian rate, but the rate for males.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b February 1, 2013. Ed Pilkington. US military struggling to stop suicide epidemic among war veterans. The Guardian. Retrieved: 23 May 2014.
  2. ^ April 3, 2014. Jordain Carney. [1]. National Journal. Retrieved: 23 May 2014.
  3. ^ January 10, 2014. Denver Nicks. Report: Suicide Rate Soars Among Young Vets. "The suicide rate among veterans remains well above that for the general population, with roughly 20 former servicemen and women committing suicide every day." TIME. Retrieved: 23 May 2014.
  4. ^ http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/2016suicidedatareport.pdf
  5. ^ February 1, 2013. U.S. military veteran suicides rise, one dies every 65 minutes. Reuters. Retrieved: 23 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Moni Basu, Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day, CNN, November 14, 2013. Retrieved: 25 December 2014
  7. ^ a b c Jeff Hargarten, Forrest Burnson, Bonnie Campo and Chase Cook, Veteran Suicides Twice as High as Civilian Rates, News21, Aug. 24, 2013. Retrieved: 25 December 2014.
  8. ^ February 5, 2013. Melanie Haiken. Suicide Rate Among Vets and Active Duty Military Jumps - Now 22 A Day. Forbes. Retrieved: 23 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Clay Hunt veterans suicide prevention act passes in Senate, will head to White House". 
  10. ^ Zarembo, Alan (2015-06-08). "Suicide rate of female military veterans is called staggering". LA Times. Retrieved 2016-07-18. 
  11. ^ Changes in Suicide Mortality for Veterans and Nonveterans by Gender and History of VHA Service Use, 2000–2010. By Claire A. Hoffmire, Ph.D., Janet E. Kemp, R.N., Ph.D., Robert M. Bossarte, Ph.D.. Published online: May 01, 2015. Psychiatric Services, Volume 66 Issue 9, September 01, 2015, pp. 959-965. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201400031.
  12. ^ "VA Releases Report on Nation's Largest Analysis of Veteran Suicide". Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. Retrieved 9 September 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c d e (us), Office of the Surgeon General; (us), National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (2012-09-01). Brief History of Suicide Prevention in the United States. US Department of Health & Human Services (US). 
  14. ^ Baker, Peter (2015-02-12). "Obama Signs Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act Into Law". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  15. ^ "Presidential Proclamation -- World Suicide Prevention Day, 2016". whitehouse.gov. 2016-09-09. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  16. ^ Hart, Chloe (2017-05-07). "Federal budget to include $350 million for veterans' mental health". ABC News. Retrieved 2017-05-16. 
  17. ^ Leo Sher, MD. Maria Dolores Braquehais, MD, PhD. Miquel Casas, MD, PhD. Posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide in veterans. doi:10.3949/ccjm.79a.11069. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. February 2012. vol. 79 2 92-97. Retrieved: 25 May 2014.
  18. ^ But There Isn't An Epidemic Of Suicide In The US Military. By Tim Worstall. Feb 2, 2013. Forbes.

Further reading

  • Suicide Data Report, 2012 - Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Services, Suicide Prevention Program
  • Suicide Rates in VHA Patients through 2011 with Comparisons with Other Americans and other Veterans through 2010 - Veterans Health Administration

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Health and Human Services website https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/national-strategy-suicide-prevention/full-report.pdf.

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