The report titled “VA National Suicide Data Report” was published in June 2018, and it studied the instances of suicide among veterans and active duty service members between 2005 and 2015, as well as characteristics of those suicides. VA used data from the joint VA/DoD Suicide Data Repository, which includes data from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The data used for the non-veteran population was from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey and the Center for Disease Control’s Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiological Research (WONDER) application.
For the purposes of the report, “veteran” refers to “former service members who had been activated for federal service and were not currently serving on active duty at the time of their death.”
The Main Takeaways
VA’s report found that suicide rates among veterans have remained consistent from 2014 to 2015. However, in 2015, veterans represented a smaller percentage of adults who died by suicide in the U.S. as compared to 2010. In 2010, veterans made up 9.6% of the total U.S. adult population, but accounted for 16.5% of deaths by suicide. In 2015, veterans made up 8.3% of the total U.S. adult population and accounted for 14.3% of deaths by suicide among U.S. adults. The suicide rate among veterans is 2.1 times higher than that of the non-veteran population. According the report, 67% of veteran suicides are the result of firearm injuries.
Veteran Population Compared to Non-veterans
VA’s report mentions that the amount of non-veteran suicides each day has increased each year between 2005 and 2015. In contrast, the number of veteran suicides has not changed during that same time period. However, VA notes that the total veteran population has decreased in that 10-year span, while the general population has increased.
Female veterans have a higher rate of suicide when compared to non-veteran females (2 times higher). Female veterans also have a higher rate of suicide as compared to the non-veteran population than males, who are 1.3 times more likely than their non-veteran counterparts to commit suicide. Overall, male veterans die by suicide at a higher rate than female veterans when compared to each other. VA expresses these rates per 100,000 (meaning the rate indicates how many individuals commit suicide out of 100,000 per year). Using this measure (unadjusted for age), male veterans overall die by suicide suicide at a rate of 31.1 per 100,000, and female veterans die by suicide at a rate of 15.3 per 100,000.
When compared to the female non-veteran population, female veterans die by suicide at higher rates. For the female non-veteran population, this rate is 7.6 per 100,000. For female veterans, this rate is 15.3 per 100,000. It should be noted that these rates are not adjusted for age, and the veteran population in general is older than the non-veteran population.
When compared to the male non-veteran population, male veterans die by suicide at the rate of 31.1 per 100,000. The male non-veteran population’s suicide rate is 26.9 per 100,000. Again, it should be noted that the veteran population overall is older than the non-veteran population, and these rates are not adjusted for age.
Breaking It Down
Overall, VA’s report shows the total to be 20.6 suicides per day: 3.6 were active duty service members, and 16.8 were veterans. Of the 16.8 veteran suicides each day, about 6 are those receiving VA healthcare and 11 are those who are not using VA healthcare.
Things to Note When Reading the Data
The population of veterans and non-veterans may not be directly comparable for a few reasons, two of which are that the veteran population has fewer women than the non-veteran population, and, the veteran population is also older on average than the non-veteran population.
If you are a veteran, or know a veteran is considering suicide, reach out to VA’s Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to speak with someone, or text 838255. Veterans can also visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.