Military suicides continue to rise
6:39 PM EDT September 26, 2019
Deaths by suicide in the US military continue to rise with 541 service members dying in 2018, according to a Pentagon report issued Thursday.
Military leaders are continuing to express concern and frustration about the rising number of deaths as they attempt to understand why the numbers are increasing. (continued)
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"I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent further, future suicides in the armed services. We don't. We are caught up in what some call a national epidemic of suicide among our youth. And not just our youth, but it's something we continue to wrestle with," Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday.
There were 511 deaths by suicide in 2017, and there was a particular increase in 2018 among active duty service members.
325 suicides were reported in the active duty ranks in 2018, up from 285 in 2017 and 280 in 2016. In the reserves, there were 81 suicides reported in 2018, down from 93 in 2017 with 80 in 2016. In the National Guard, there were 135 cases in 2018, compared to 133 in 2017 and 122 in 2016.
"Suicide is an adversary that is killing more of our airmen than any enemy on the planet," said Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force, in a recent message to his troops.
Pentagon officials indicate they don't see a direct correlation between suicides and combat deployments. Esper added that "we just can't let these great, young Americans take their lives because of financial pressure or relationship challenges, or whatever comes up. We need to help them. We need to start with prevention, but we need to work all the way through the system and really continue to get on top of this issue."
From 2013 to 2018, the suicide rate in active duty units increased from 18.5 to 24.8 per 100,000 service members. Rates of suicide are a key way of understanding the increase by accounting for any overall change in the size of the force.
Among reserve forces, there were 22.9 suicides per 100,000. For the National Guard, there were 30.6 suicides per 100,000.
A Pentagon statistical analysis showed 2018 suicide rates in the military were roughly equivalent to the US population rates in all military components, except the National Guard. Service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted, less than 30 years of age, male, and died by firearm, regardless of what branch they served in.
VA Suicide Prevention Efforts
Suicide prevention is VA’s top clinical priority, and VA has adopted a public health approach to suicide prevention.
The goal of VA’s suicide prevention efforts is not to get every Veteran enrolled in VA care, but rather to equip communities to help Veterans get the right care, whenever and wherever they need it. This means using prevention approaches that cut across all sectors in which Veterans may interact, and collaborating with Veterans service organizations, state and local leaders, medical professionals, criminal justice officials, private employers and many other stakeholders. Put simply, VA must ensure suicide prevention is a part of every aspect of Veterans’ lives, not just their interactions with VA.
Reaching Veterans Where They Live, Work, and Thrive
VA’s suicide prevention efforts are guided by the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, a long-term plan published in 2018 that provides a framework for identifying priorities, organizing efforts, and focusing national attention and community resources to prevent suicide among Veterans while adopting a broad public health approach with an emphasis on comprehensive, community-based engagement.
The public health approach looks beyond the individual to involve peers, family members and communities in preventing suicide. This approach is grounded in four key focus areas:
- Primary prevention: Preventing suicidal behavior before it occurs.
- Whole health: Considering factors beyond mental health, including physical health,alcohol or substance misuse and life events.
- Application of data and research: Emphasizing evidence-based approaches that can betailored to fit the needs of Veterans in local communities.
- Collaboration: Educating and empowering diverse communities to participate in suicideprevention efforts through coordination.
VA Suicide Prevention by the Numbers
VA suicide prevention coordinators are managing care for almost 11,000 Veterans who are clinically at high-risk for suicide.
VA’s REACH VET program uses predictive analytics to identify Veterans with high statistical risk for suicide. Annually, 30,000 Veterans receive care review and outreach to ensure they are well engaged in care and their needs are being met.
- Under VA’s new universal screening for suicidal intent, almost 900,000 Veterans have received a standardized risk screen since October 1, 2018.
- More than 30,000 of these Veterans have received more complex screening based on a positive initial screen and more than 3,000 have received a full clinical assessment after screening positive.
- In FY18, VA provided more than 2.4 million same-day mental health appointments.
- VA hired almost 1,000 new mental health professionals in the last year.
- In FY18, more than 120,000 new Veterans enrolled in VA services within 60 days of their military separation.
- VA’s Concierge for Care program called more than 99 percent of Veterans identified within the first month of their military separation.
- VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators conducted more than 20,000 outreach events in FY18, reaching almost 2 million people.
- Since its inception in July 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) has answered over 3.8 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in imminent crisis nearly 112,000 times.
- The Veterans Chat, an online, one-to-one “chat service” for Veterans who prefer reaching out for assistance using the Internet, has answered over 439,000 requests for chat services since its inception in 2009.
- Since its inception in 2011, the Crisis Line texting service has answered nearly 108,000 requests for text services. The text number is 838255.
- VCL staff have forwarded more than 640,000 referrals to local VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators on behalf of Veterans to ensure continuity of care with Veterans’ local VA providers.
- In FY18, VCL: Dispatched emergency services for callers in immediate danger an average of 80 times per day.
- Received an average of 1,766 calls per day
- Received an average of 203 chats per day
- Received an average of 74 texts per day.
Promoting VA Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Services
VA spent $12.2 million on suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018, including $1.5million on paid media.
In partnership with Johnson & Johnson, VA released a public service announcement, “No Veteran Left Behind,” featuring Tom Hanks via social media and a communications plan led by Johnson & Johnson.
VA continues to use the #BeThere Campaign to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention and educate Veterans, their families, and communities about the suicide prevention resources available to them.
- During Suicide Prevention Month (Sept.), the suicide prevention program implemented a dedicated outreach effort for #BeThere, including several Facebook Live events that reached more than 160,000 people, a satellite media tour promoting the campaign that reached more than 8.9 million on television and 33.9 million on radio, partner outreach, and more.
- Through this outreach we generated more than 347,000 visits to the VCL website during Suicide Prevention Month.
The National Action Alliance helped spread the #BeThere campaign to hundreds of partners using #BeThere and the Veterans Crisis Line information during 2018 Suicide Prevention Month Activities, raising awareness to Be There for Veterans and Service members.
- VA created more than 30 new cross-sector partnerships to involve peers, family members, and communities in preventing Veteran suicide.
- VA delivers monthly partnership updates to include content about the S.A.V.E online suicide prevention training video to 60 informal and formal partners, providing communications materials (blog posts, social media, and emails) for use.
- To date, more than 93 percent of VA personnel have taken the training, and the video has been viewed more than 17,000 times.
- VA is implementing the Mayor’s Challenge to give 24 cities (expanded from seven) thetools and technical assistance needed to address Veteran suicides at the local level.
- VA is partnering with the Department of Defense and The Department of Homeland Security, as mandated by a 2018 executive order, to ensure that all new Veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from military service.
VA’s national Suicide Prevention Program was allocated $41 million in FY18. This does not include funding for the more than 400 Suicide Prevention Coordinators stationed at every medical center, the VCL, or clinical care for at risk Veterans.
For the latest analysis of Veteran suicide rates: www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/data.asp. For information on resources available for Veterans, families, friends, and communities, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/resources.asp.