Almost every hour in this country, on average, a veteran commits suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 22 veterans per day took their own lives in 2010, up four a day from the 2007 rate. Perhaps contrary to public perception, the report said most suicides occurred among veterans over 50. It recognized Vietnam-era veterans as a risk group, as well as female veterans.
Military service members come disproportionately from rural areas, which usually lack the types of mental-health services available in urban areas.
(Among active service members in 2012, more died from suicide than in combat, we reported here. The Army said Friday that 325 soldiers committed suicides last year; if the tentative number is confirmed, it would be a historical high. "If that bleak total remains at 325, the toll in 2012 would have risen by 15 percent over 2011 when the Army sustained 283 suicides," NBC News reported.)
Reactions to the report about veterans' suicides ranged from encouragement to outrage. The VA pointed out that the daily veteran suicide rate has "remained relatively stable over the past 12 years," but the percentage of the overall national suicide rate accounted for by veteran suicide has actually decreased. Veteran suicides accounted for about one-fifth of American suicides in 2010, down from one-fourth of suicides in 1999.
The VA said that showed its programs are working, but promised to take "immediate actions." NBC reported that "the top strategy" on the VA's agenda was an already-established task force that could help suicide screening identify warning signs earlier.
Some groups were dismayed by the VA report and demanded more action. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America called for more research and collaboration. "The country should be outraged that we are allowing this tragedy to continue," IAVA found and CEO Paul Rieckhoff told NBC.
On Feb. 13, the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs will hold a hearing on veterans and mental health care. The Veterans Crisis Line -- 800-273-TALK -- is available for veterans who are concerned about their mental health. (Read more)