Let’s get one thing straight: we are in the middle of an epidemic. Suicide rates over the past 10 years have been rising at a shocking and horrific rate. And while it is impacting the veteran population in particular, suicide is an American problem. It’s a national problem that demands national, community-based solutions. It took us years to get to the point that we are at, and it will take years of hard, diligent work by all of us to make progress on this issue.
It is also important to note that as with many reports, the numbers we are seeing today lag a few years behind. This is pretty standard for big research reports as it takes time to collect and analyze all those numbers. For example, the Center for Disease Control’s suicide report, which our Policy Intern Nick broke down last week, is the latest data we have; and it’s from 2016. So the numbers we will be talking about today that were released by VA this week are actually from 2015. That’s 3 years ago!
For context, three years ago the IAVA-backed Clay Hunt SAV Act was signed into law. At the time, it was one of the first pieces of legislation targeting mental health and suicide prevention for the Post-9/11 generation. Since then, we’ve seen a number of wins and many pieces of legislation passed addressing the issue. Since 2015, within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Veterans Crisis Line has expanded, community partnerships have expanded, VA has opened up emergency mental health care to those with other than honorable discharges, and started using predictive analytics to reach out to veterans who show risk factors for suicide.
I don’t mean to bury to the lede here, but I do want to make sure we have some context when looking at these numbers; and understand that in many ways this report reflects where we were, not where we are. But here’s the hard part: we won’t know where we are on suicide in 2018 for a few years.
So let’s get down to it. Overall, the rate stayed the same. The most recent VA report shows that 20 veterans a day are dying by suicide. Women veterans are two times more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts and firearms was the most used method. Veterans aged 18 to 34, the Post-9/11 generation, had the highest rate of suicide.
These results are incredibly disheartening but not unexpected. In our latest Member Survey, 58 percent of IAVA members know a Post-9/11 veteran who died by suicide. And 65 percent know a Post-9/11 veteran who has attempted suicide. That’s an almost 20 percent rise in both stats since 2014. We’ve been watching this trendline for years. The data out of VA and the CDC just confirmed what our members already know: veteran suicide is a huge issue and it continues to be a huge issue.
But in the numbers, there’s some hope too. According to our latest Member Survey, when a family member or friend mentioned getting help, 80 percent of IAVA member respondents sought help as a result. In the recently passed omnibus spending package, $10 million was allocated to Clay Hunt SAV Act pilot programs and another $10 million was allocated to the Veterans Crisis Line. There is light on the horizon and there are countless volunteers, advocates, professionals, and organizations dedicating their time and resources to addressing this issue. The work is far from over, and IAVA will be there every step of the way.
We know veteran suicide is a top concern for IAVA members which is why it’s part of IAVA’s Big 6. If you are in need of assistance, our RRRP team is standing by. And if you are experiencing a crisis, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255.