At least 22 veterans commit suicide every day and young male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to commit suicide when compared to civilian males in the same age bracket, according to a new briefing released Thursday by the Department of Veteran Affairs. The number of veteran suicides largely remained unchanged between 2009 to 2011, but the number of male veteran between the ages of 18 to 24 who committed suicide increased by a rate of 33 per 100,000 over the three year period.
Young veterans in the high risk age category had a suicide rate of 79.1 per 1,000, while other American males had a suicide rate of 25 per 1,000, as NBC News pointed out. The study found that overall, male veterans between the age of 18 to 24 and female veterans were most likely to commit suicide. About 70 percent of male veterans who committed suicide took their lives with firearms, while nearly 80 percent of female veterans died as a result of poison or firearms. What’s more, veteran suicides among those enrolled in the Veteran Health Administration (VHA) decreased by about 30 percent, but suicides among veteran non-enrollees soared by 60 percent.
Lead study author Dr. Janet Kemp, the VA’s National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, suggested to the military paper Stars and Stripes that while the reasons for veteran suicides are unclear, soldiers have to deal with factors like readjusting to civilian life and dealing with both physical and mental combat injuries.
The study notes that the VHA has made significant strides to address mental health concerns and has decreased the rate of suicide among older veteran health care enrollees and those with mental health issues. But, those enrollees do not always receive adequate treatment. In some cases, patients with mental issues commit suicide while waiting for months to access help. And limited access to a mental health specialist is an issue that will likely still be a burden for future veterans: returning troops, 15 percent of whom suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, would still have to wait to see a specialist only after the VHA deals with its current backlog of 900,000 unprocessed medical claims.