IMPACT

20 Veterans Die By Suicide Every Day. Here's What The VA Is Doing About It

Female vets and older veterans are most at risk.
US Marine Corps Cpl. Aaron Mankin helps set up 1,892 American flags on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2014
US Marine Corps Cpl. Aaron Mankin helps set up 1,892 American flags on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2014. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year as part of the 'We've Got Your Back: IAVA's Campaign to Combat Suicide.' 

The rate of veteran suicide has dropped slightly, but figures still point to a crisis that requires “aggressive” measures, according to a new report.

In its most exhaustive examination of the issue to date, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found that about 20 veterans died by suicide every day in 2014. That was down from 22 a day in 2010, according to preliminary figures. The complete report is slated to be released later this month.

But the VA says the drop is no cause for celebration.

“Twenty a day is not that different from 22,” David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Associated Press.”It is far too high.”

This undated handout photo provided by the Omvig family shows Army reservist Joshua Omvig. Omvig was one of a number of soldi
This undated handout photo provided by the Omvig family shows Army reservist Joshua Omvig. Omvig was one of a number of soldiers who died by suicide after returning from Iraq. Veterans' groups and families who have lost loved ones say the number of troops struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues is on the increase and not enough help is being provided by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department.

Since 2001, the rate of suicide in the U.S. increased more among veterans than non-veterans. And that figure was even higher among veterans who didn’t take advantage of VA services, according to VA analysis.

Over the past 15 years, civilian suicide increased by 23 percent while veteran suicide jumped 32 percent.

Veterans over the age of 50 and female vets who don’t take advantage of VA services were most at risks.

Veterans are susceptible to suicide for a number of reasons unique to their service experience.

After leaving the military, for example, former servicemen and servicewomen lose the “intense feelings of belonging.” Instances of suicide are also linked to traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which have been widely associated with deployment experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a 2011 report released by the Center for a New American Society. 

Army Staff Sgt. Earl Granville of Arlington, Va. rests his hand on his prosthetic leg as he sits in the grass outside Arlingt
Army Staff Sgt. Earl Granville of Arlington, Va. rests his hand on his prosthetic leg as he sits in the grass outside Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 25, 2015, on Memorial Day. Granville wears a bracelet with a photograph of his brother, Staff Sgt. Joe Granville, who committed suicide in 2010. Americans observe Memorial Day this weekend to remember the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The VA said it’s “aggressively” pursuing new measures to help prevent veteran suicide, which was precipitated by the department’s summit on the topic in February. That event called for improving mental health care access for veterans and increasing resources for the VA Suicide Prevention Program.

Improving mental health services and access to it is critical, experts say, particularly because of how the surrounding stigma often keeps vets from getting psychological help, according to the Center for a New American Society report.

In 2010, 43 percent of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who took their own lives did not seek help from military treatment facilities in the month before their deaths, the report found.

The VA is working toward ensuring same-day access for veterans with urgent mental health needs. It’s also going to employ predictive modeling to better determine which vets are at risk for suicide.

To help improve its efforts, the VA hired 446 new psychologists last year and 80 new psychiatrists, according to the AP. It’s also bringing on 60 new crisis intervention responders for its Veterans Crisis Line who will be well versed in substance use disorders, screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment.

“One veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy,” Shulkin said in a statement. “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of Veteran suicides to zero.”

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For veterans, immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.