Veterans are hurting, what are we doing? Suicides about 2.4 times greater than reported by VA

For years it’s been widely reported that military veterans have a tragically high suicide rate, but an alarming study released by America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP) now says the actual rate is more than twice that of official government statistics.

“Military suicide rates are alarmingly high and rising, often attributed to the trauma and stress of serving in post-9/11 anti-terror wars, head injuries, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life,” reports The Daily Mail, “The study comes as veterans increasingly complain about poor support from the military, and as the Army faces its worst recruitment crisis in decades and a shortfall of as many as 15,000 troops this year.”

“Researchers found thousands of cases of suspected or confirmed suicides not included in official figures,” the outlet added. “According to the VA, some 17 veterans aged 18-64 die each day by suicide in those eight states [included in the study]. AWP’s study — known as Operation Deep Dive — said in reality there were 24, or 1.4 times the official rate.”

“Then the group added the 20 veterans who die daily after injuring themselves — 80 percent of whom are drug overdose deaths. The combined 44 daily veteran deaths is 2.4 times VA suicide figures,” the Daily Mail noted.

The Executive Summary of the new Operation Deep Dive (OpDD) study conducted by the nonprofit veterans assistance organization America’s Warrior Partnership in conjunction with University of Alabama and Duke University, states:

“Operation Deep Dive™ (OpDD), a former service member (FSM) suicide and selfinjury
mortality (SIM) study encompassing eight states and five years of death data corroborated by
the Department of Defense (DoD), indicates that FSMs take their own lives each year at a rate
approximately 2.4 times greater than previously reported by the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA).

“OpDD data analytics was able to identify FSMs with the greatest probability of
taking their own life. This interim report highlights the need to expand data sets to include
additional states and the VA, and jointly identify suicide and SIM prevention efforts for FSMs.
The implications of the data for prevention analysis and prevention application raise awareness
to help prevent FSMs from taking their lives because “Together, We Can Do Better.”

 

The study’s major findings include:

  • States undercount FSM deaths at a combined error rate of 25%
  • A suicide rate 37% higher than reported by VA for years 20142018 was identified. The difference in the data is likely due to undercounting of FSMs deaths and the greater specificity of the decedent’s demographics, military experience, and death details available to OpDD™
  • The number of suicides represented in the eight states (18% of US veterans), are 1.37 times greater than reported by the VA from 2014-2018
  • If these eight states collectively represented the national rate, the combined death rate would be at least 44 FSMs per day which is 2.4 times higher than the VA suicide rate.
  • Receiving a demotion during military service increased the FSM’s odds of dying by suicide/SIM by 56%
  • Living with a partner decreased the odds of suicide/SIM by nearly 40%.

 

To deal with this ongoing tragedy OppDD listed six recommendations, including:

  • Self-injury mortality must be included in any analysis of former service member and veteran death
  • States must make death data available, with proper controls, for research purposes
  • Prevention strategies must begin at the community level by holistically focusing on housing, meaningful employment, financial security, relationships, purpose, physical health, and mental wellbeing. Solely focusing on the mechanism of death does not address the root cause of suicide/self-injury mortality.

 

In highly welcome good news, however, Military Times reported that veterans’ 2020 suicide rate dropped to the lowest level since 2006, the latest year for which data is available. The 6,146 deaths, horrible as they are, represents a drop of 9.7 percent from 2018.

“This year’s report shows real progress, but there is still so much work to be done. One veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to work with our federal, state, local and private partners to tackle this problem and save veterans’ lives,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough regarding the data.

Although OppDD reports that government statistics are erroneously low, if the government is basing its figures on the same criteria between years, that could be showing an actual decrease in the scale of this ultimate human tragedy.

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