Addressing the Tragedy of Veteran Suicide

September is recognized as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month– a time meant to raise awareness and open the dialog around suicide, while advocating for better mental health care. As part of this awareness month, September 5th-11th is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Week, and September 10th as World Suicide Prevention Day. 

Suicide and the Military

One population that is hit particularly hard with death by suicide is the military. In 2019, the VA released its National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, which showed that the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate of non-veteran adults. While veterans make up just 7.9% of the adult population in the United States, they account for 13.5% of all adult deaths by suicide. 

In a 2018 report, Department of Veterans Affairs records show that 22 veterans and active service members lose their life to suicide every day. During the Global War on Terror (2001-2019), there were approximately 5,440 active duty members killed in action and aproximately 115,000 deaths by suicide in the same time frame. That means roughly 21 veterans ended their lives by their own hand for every one that was killed by an enemy combatant–a truly stunning and staggering number.

Suggesting new ways to prioritize mental health in the military, veterans advocate Charles P. Smith offers a data-driven plan to help prevent suicide and ensure service members get proper care before, during and after active duty. In his TED Talk, “How the US Can Address the Tragedy of Veteran Suicide”, he suggests building data sets around veteran suicide is an important step in addressing this problem. And the data gathered would not just apply to the military; the information can be used to help the general population as well. “If we put our minds together and our resources together, and we openly talk about this, and try to find solutions for this epidemic that’s going on in America, hopefully we can save a life.” Listen to his TED Talk to learn more about suicide in the military, and recommendations for addressing this public health crisis.

Addressing the Stigma Around Suicide

People have become increasingly comfortable talking about their mental health, but the topic of suicide continues to have a stigma surrounding it. The stigma associated with mental health treatment, however, continues to be a major barrier to effective care for many active-duty military and veterans, because many fear consequences to their career if news of their diagnosis or treatment plan reaches their superior. By learning more about what leads someone to suicide, researching ways we can help to prevent it, and making resources available, we can empower our communities to address this leading cause of death. Join the conversation. #BeThe1To educate and advocate–not just this month–but every month of the year.

Additional Resources

Here are some helpful resources for active military and veterans looking for mental health assistance.

Objective Zero

Grey Team

Military Crisis Line 

Grace After Fire

FOCUS Marines Foundation

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