VA: 22 Veterans Commit Suicide Daily

Image: VA: 22 Veterans Commit Suicide Daily

Friday, 04 Apr 2014 08:37 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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An estimated 22 veterans kill themselves every day, according to a 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study.

The figure has spurred legislation to address problems for veterans, including re-examining soldiers discharged for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder behaviors as well as allowing vets – who may have a delayed reaction to trauma  – to enroll in VA healthcare for up to 15 years after separating from the military, according to The National Journal.

Funding the bill may prove challenging. A cost estimate has yet to be released by the Congressional Budget Office, The National Journal said.

Last year, The Guardian reported that the U.S. military was in the throes of what the publication called a "suicide epidemic," citing data showing 349 service members killed themselves in 2012, compared to 295 who died in combat.

With 182 suicides, the Army led the pack, followed by the Navy (60), Air Force (59) and Marines (48).

Also in 2012, according to The Guardian, 6,500 former military personnel committed suicide, a rate equal to about one death every 80 minutes.

Vets who don’t receive VA care are more likely to commit suicide than those who are. According to VA estimates, just 20 percent of the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day are in VA care.

A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week shows just more than half, 51 percent, of Iraq or Afghanistan war vets know someone who has attempted or committed suicide.

As part of a three-step, year-long outreach and awareness crusade led by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Montana Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat and an Iraq War combat veteran, introduced the legislation addressing the issue, according to The National Journal.

The veterans group also wants the administration to implement a standardized system to track veteran suicides and suicide attempts. Only 21 states provided information to the VA when it was conducting its study that produced the 22 suicides per day figure.

The notion of a "suicide epidemic" has its skeptics, including Forbes contributing writer Tim Worstall who last year challenged The Guardian story.

"The actual suicide rate in the US military seems to be around and about that for the US as a whole," he wrote, citing data from the same 2012 VA study. "Soldiers and ex-soldiers don’t kill themselves in any greater numbers than the average American does."

The Los Angeles Times in December ran a story about how the 22 suicides a day figure is misleading, saying the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not the primary focus of the study.

The VA looked at veterans from the 21 states from which data was available and the majority of the suicides – 69 percent – were committed by vets over 50, most of whom never served in the post-9/11 era, according to the Times.

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