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Pentagon Faces Continued Military Suicide Challenges

New report underscores need for Clay Hunt SAV Act and other mental health care reforms

New York, N.Y. (January 16, 2015) – According to a new report released today by the Pentagon, the number of active duty suicides decreased in 2013 compared to 2012. However, the study revealed that a staggering 479 suicides were still recorded among active duty servicemembers, Reservists and National Guard members, compared to 522 in 2012. The annual Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (DoDSER), which includes suicide attempts and deaths, is available here.

The release of the DoD survey coincides with a study to be released by the Annals of Epidemiology, which confirms that the annual suicide rate for veterans is roughly double that of civilians with similar demographics. Both studies underscore the need for mental health care reform legislation promoted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Their bill, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, would increase veteran access to mental health care services and boost accountability within VA’s suicide prevention programs. The bill, which unanimously passed the House on Monday, will be heard by the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee on Wed., Jan. 21, before being sent to the floor.

“The Pentagon’s report is only the tip of the iceberg of our nation’s warrior mental health care crisis,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “Suicides from active-duty servicemembers and veterans are categorized separately in reports from the DoD and VA, clouding the big picture and making the crisis seem smaller than it is. In reality, these men and women represent the same population with the same risk factors, but are just at different points in their careers. And as the Annals of Epidemiology study underscores, the suicide rate among veterans may be higher than we have ever understood. Both of these reports confirm what IAVA and our members have known for years: that our country is failing to adequately meet the mental health care needs of our veterans. Veteran and military suicide is not just a veteran or military issue — it is a complex, national public health issue. We call on the President talk about this national crisis in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, and support IAVA’s Clay Hunt SAV Act and other policy efforts to combat veteran suicide. We also call on Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) – the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate – to endorse veteran mental health care reforms during the Republican response to the State of the Union address.”

“Although the news is difficult, we thank Secretary Hagel and his team for their commitment in combating suicides among our troops and vets. As a combat veteran himself, the Secretary is acutely aware of the challenges our soldiers face when they return home from war. In the past year the Secretary and his team have engaged with our staff and members on ways to increase quality mental health care access for active-duty military,” Rieckhoff concluded.

In IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, 47 percent of respondents know at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide, while 40 percent of respondents know someone who has died by suicide, up three points from 2013. A staggering 31 percent of respondents have thought about taking their own life since joining the military.

To support its legislative efforts, IAVA launched a petition in December after Sen. Coburn blocked the Clay Hunt SAV Act. To date, the grassroots petition currently includes more than 139,500 signatures of IAVA members and supporters. Click here to learn more.

In 2014, IAVA provided 2,147 veterans with comprehensive and personalized transition support from Masters level social workers through its Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP). IAVA also connects veterans to mental health services through its partnership with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line. The services works to ensure that every servicemember, veteran, family member and provider knows that there is free and confidential help available 24 hours a day through phone, text and online. Veterans, or those concerned about veterans, can call 800-273-8255 and press 1 to be directly connected to qualified responders.

Note to media: Email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. As a non-profit founded in 2004, IAVA’s mission is to connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans. Celebrating its 12th year anniversary, IAVA has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided more than 7,300 veterans with personalized support from IAVA’s Master’s level social workers.