Suicide rates up among younger veterans, VA says

The number of suicides among younger veterans has increased “substantially,” according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. (VA). The latest statistics show that 45 of every 100,000 veterans ages 18-34 committed suicide in 2016 – up from around 40 a year earlier. “These findings underscore the fact that suicide is a national public health issue that affects communities everywhere,” the VA said in a statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal. “Our goal is to prevent suicide among all veterans — even those who do not and may never seek care within VA’s system.” The VA found that there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. Veterans accounted for 14 percent of all suicides in the United States in 2016, yet veterans comprise just 8 percent of the population, the report said, according to the newspaper. In the report, the VA described veteran suicide as an “urgent crisis” that it can’t address by itself. Still, some advocates say the department has not devoted enough resources to this issue. “If any other population of 20 million people were exposed to these threats, it would be considered a public health priority,” Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the newspaper. “There has never been a national call to action.” Last year, the VA’s inspector general found the department’s suicide hotline had routed a high percentage of calls to backup centers, a major flaw the department says it has resolved. On Tuesday, the inspector general also released a report after a veteran killed himself less than 24 hours after his departure from a VA facility in Minnesota. The report accused the facility of not providing followup care for the veteran, who was taken into the hospital over suicidal ideation. “Because many veterans do not use VA services and benefits, we must build networks of support, communication and care across the communities where veterans live and thrive,” the report states. The data was released a day before a scheduled hearing by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. At the Thursday hearing, lawmakers are to discuss veteran suicide prevention efforts. The VA’s confidential Veterans Crisis Line is open 24/7 for vets and those concerned about them. The telephone number is 1-800-273-8255.

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