New findings released by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that on average, 20 veterans take their own lives each day. The number is two less per day than 2013 findings, but signals much work has to be done to curb the epidemic.
Released on July 7, the data found that 7,400 veterans committed suicide in 2014. Despite comprising less than 9 percent of Americans, veterans accounted for 18 percent of all suicides that year, according to the Military Times.
The new study brings a more complete picture to the veteran suicide epidemic. Previous data, such as the 2013 figures that had suggested 22 suicides per day, were based on only 20 states and incomplete records.
The VA has expanded its study by incorporating every state and U.S. territory as well as an archive of over 50 million records compiled from 1979 to 2014.
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The research indicates that veterans are 21 percent more likely to take their own lives than civilians. It is not clear whether or not experiencing combat is the main cause because 65 percent of veteran suicides record in 2014 were individuals aged 50 years and above, many of them having not served during wartime.
VA undersecretary for health Dr. David Shulkin told The Associated Press that while the more comprehensive study finds the average veteran suicide rate to be below the previous estimate, it is still a cause for great concern.
“Twenty a day is not that different from 22,” Shulkin said. “It is far too high.”
The data suggests female veterans are particularly vulnerable to suicide risk. In 2014, female veterans were 2.4 times more likely to kill themselves than their civilian counterparts, with 18.9 per 100,000 taking their own lives.
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On June 30, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan bill titled the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act into law. The legislation will mandate that the VA identify and implement the most effective ways of curbing the rate of suicide among female veterans, KIOW reports.
Shulkin stated that the VA is using the new findings to determine where to pour new resources. In 2015, the VA added 446 new psychologists and 80 new psychiatrists.
The VA is also adding 60 new staff members to the Veterans Crisis Line, which has been widely criticized for failing to meet the demand of calls.
Internal emails within the VA Crisis Line indicated that 35 to 50 percent of calls made by veterans are currently not met by properly trained staff, USA Today reports.
Executive director Joe Chenelly of veterans group AMVETS commended the new study as a step in the right direction.
“Of course, this is still 20 [deaths] too many,” Chenelly said. “But we are grateful for the deeper, more accurate data analysis. Much still needs to be done, and this gives us a better idea where to focus.”