New statistics released by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week indicate that 20 veterans committed suicide per day in 2014. That figure, just marginally less than a previous estimate, has raised concerns about the degree and quality of mental health care America’s veterans receive.
“Regardless of the numbers or rates, one Veteran suicide is one too many,” David Shulkin, the VA’s undersecretary for health, said in a statement the group released on Thursday. The VA had previously estimated that 22 veterans were committing suicide per day in 2013. Both numbers cast light on what lawmakers and concerned citizens alike are recognizing as an epidemic.
Shulkin told the Associated Press (AP) of the importance of de-stigmatizing the idea of receiving counseling to help people feel more comfortable reaching out for help. He reportedly said the VA is working on partnering with advocacy groups throughout the United States to ensure veterans get the help they need.
The AP pointed out that that the increase in attention on veteran suicides “comes at a time when the VA has reported a huge upswing in veterans seeking medical care as they have returned from conflicts in the Middle East.” The VA study noted that two-thirds, or 65 percent, of all veterans who committed suicide were 50 or older.
“We as a nation must do more to encourage veterans in need to seek treatment and ask for help,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the AP.
The AP also noted that while the rate of suicides for non-veterans has also increased in recent years, it has increased at a greater pace for veterans. The VA study found that veterans are 21 percent more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts. In 2014 alone, nearly 7,400 veterans took their own lives. The highest suicide rates occur among veterans who do not participate in the VA’s mental health programs.
The study also found that the “risk for suicide was 2.4 times higher among female veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adult females.”
Last year, Breitbart News highlighted that a damning report published by the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs revealed that a number of veterans’ claims-related documents at the Los Angeles VA Regional Office (VARO) was placed in employee shred boxes without being processed and that all but one of the documents labeled for shredding had the potential to affect veterans’ benefits.
The VA’s previous study on veterans’ suicide rates had only incorporated data from less than half of the states and reportedly did not include states like California and Texas, two states with a high number of veterans. However, the AP noted that VA has reportedly expanded its database, following pressure from veterans groups, and has incorporated records from the Department of Defense to help identify veterans who had not enrolled in the VA’s numerous programs in an attempt to help change that.
The VA has made a 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) available to veterans. Callers should dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) “and then ‘Press 1’ to reach highly skilled responders trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention.” A chat service and texting option are reportedly also available.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.