While the media focused on President Trump’s latest nickname for Kim Jong Un, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs quietly released an unsettling report on suicide statistics among veterans.
The report concluded that veterans are over 20 percent more likely to kill themselves, when compared to non-veteran civilians in the U.S. While that may come as no surprise, when taking into consideration the number of campaigns to raise awareness about the prevalence of veterans committing suicide, the truly alarming percentage comes from the number of female veterans who take their own lives.
The suicide rate for female veterans is 250 percent higher than the suicide rate for female non-veteran civilians. While there was some coverage of the overall suicide rate that stemmed from this report, the statistics related specifically to females—which were alarmingly high—appeared to be deemed less important.
The same trend is displayed in research, with the top articles on a search for “veteran suicide” on Google Scholar holding titles such as “Suicide among male veterans: a prospective, population-based study” and “Suicide risk and precipitating circumstances among young, middle-aged, and older male veterans.” When searching for “female veteran suicide,” none of the results included the keywords in the title.
The report from the Department of Veterans Affairs surveyed suicide statistics among veterans from 2001 to 2014. While past reports have been limited to only surveying veterans who received services from the Veterans Health Administration, the latest report claims to provide an unprecedented look at all veterans, including a comparison to American civilians.
“This report on Veteran suicide is unprecedented in its breadth and depth of information about the characteristics of suicide among Veterans. It contains the first comprehensive assessment of differences in rates of suicide among Veterans with and without use of VHA services and comparisons between Veterans and other Americans. This report serves as a foundation for informing and evaluating suicide prevention efforts inside the VHA health care system and for developing lifesaving collaborations with community health care partners.”
In a statement on the report, VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin called the results “deeply concerning,” and insisted that the answer was for more veterans to turn to the VA for care.
“These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority,” Dr. Shulkin said. “I am committed to reducing Veteran suicides through support and education. We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year, 14 are not under VA care. This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.”
However, it should be noted that the VA has faced intense scrutiny in recent year for both failing to provide adequate care for its patients and for failing to helps veterans contemplating suicide. While the VA urges veterans to call a suicide prevention hotline, there have been multiple reports of their calls going to voicemail, and those voicemails being returned a number of days later—in some cases after it was too late.
An inspector general’s report from February 2016 noted that multiple veterans complained about reaching voicemail, and said that some VA workers did not even know the voicemail system existed.
“We found 3 of the 41 complaints made to the VCL in FY 2014 were claims that calls were transferred to a voicemail system. Our review identified over 20 calls that were routed to voicemail at 1 of the backup centers. When VCL management investigated these complaints, they discovered that the backup center staff were not aware the voicemail system existed; thus, they did not return these calls.”
While many politicians use their “support” for preventing suicide among veterans as a talking point during their campaign—such as Donald Trump’s 2016 bid for the White House, which included a push for raising awareness about veteran suicide prevention—they don’t always follow through once they are in office.
The Department of Veterans Affairs just released a report claiming that female veterans are 250 percent more likely to commit suicide than female civilians—that statistic alone is a reminder that it is time for all of the politicians who claim they support veterans to stop supporting the one thing that is creating debilitating cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the first place: sending them to fight in illegal, immoral, never-ending wars in countries that have never harmed the United States.