Veteran Suicide: Statistics & Prevention

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson examines suicide among veteran populations. The article focuses on statistics that show the prevalence of suicide among military personnel and how organizations, most notably the Veterans' Administration (VA), are working to prevent suicides.

Why Do Veterans Contemplate Suicide?

Bryce was a member of the Navy medical corps who was assigned to a group of Marines in Afghanistan. 'Doc', as all the Marines call their trusted corpsman, carried a medical bag instead of an M-16 into combat, but he had a vital role in his group's mission. Navy corpsmen are the first line of treatment for Marines in battle situations, so they are guarded carefully by their Marine brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, this protection does not completely shield the corpsman. With the job comes tragedy, and Bryce saw his share.

As so often happened on the roads of Afghanistan, Bryce was a member of a routine patrol that was attacked. Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated during the attack and several men were seriously injured. At personal risk, Bryce did his job and gave what medical assistance he could. While giving aid, he was also hit by rifle fire from a nearby hillside. He continued to care for those whose injuries were greater than his own, and they were all eventually taken back to base medical facilities then sent to State-side hospitals.

Bryce's injuries required much less care than was initially thought. Physically, he healed well, but he was scarred by all that he had seen while in combat. Now, he suffers from constant depression, and even though he sees a therapist, he has thoughts of ending the memories easily and quickly. Bryce, like many of those who participated in the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, sees suicide as an option…a very viable option.

Suicide Statistics for Veterans

It may seem that battle is the primary danger that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines face when they join the military, but statistics provide a different view. According to a New York Times article from 2012, more military personnel take their own lives than die in combat situations. This may not have always been the case, but even though technology has made war 'safer,' it has not reduced the damaging psychological effects of the trauma of battle.

The statistics below illustrate the suicide problem within the US military:

  • Although precise statistics are sometimes difficult to obtain, research suggests that between 5,000 and 8,000 suicide deaths occur annually among men and women in the US military.
  • Approximately 22 military personnel commit suicide (die as a result of suicide) each day.
  • Eleven percent of those who attempt suicide make another attempt within 9 months.
  • About 7% of military personnel who attempt suicide die in the attempt. This means that if 8,000 people were successful, more than 114,000 suicides were attempted.
  • Approximately 60% of suicide cases have a concurrent mental health diagnosis.
  • As a percentage, many more men than women commit suicide, which is consistent with the population at large.

For military members, especially those that are not currently deployed, suicide numbers are much greater than those of the general population, according to research from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, often called the Veterans' Administration (VA). For comparison, veterans make up about 7% of the US population, but they commit between 12% and 20% of suicides. There is also increasing worry that suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) and suicide attempts are greatly underreported.

On the bright side, prevention efforts by the VA and other organizations have increased in an effort to assist military men and women before it is too late.

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