Young military veterans are increasingly committing suicide, though the overall rate of suicide among veterans of all ages has gone down slightly, according to new government data.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released its National Suicide Data Report Wednesday, revealing that veterans ages 18-34 are among those struggling the most. The rate of suicide deaths among that population increased to 45 per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to 40.4 in 2015, the most recent data available.
Suicides among that age group have been on the rise for about a decade, but the most recent numbers reflect a significant and rapid increase among young vets, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Suicides spiked significantly among veterans age 18-34 in 2016 compared to 2015, according to new federal data released Wednesday
In 2016, the total number of veteran suicides fell to 6,079 compared to 6,281 in 2015, although the overall suicide rate was virtually unchanged. In 2016, 58.1 percent of veteran suicides were among those age 55 and older.
Nationwide, veterans accounted for 14 percent of suicides despite making up just 8 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 70 percent of veterans who kill themselves do so with a firearm – compared to less than 50 percent of civilians who commit suicide.
Women were particularly vulnerable, with female vets 1.8 times more likely to commit suicide compared to non-veterans.
Also at higher risk are veterans of the National Guard or military reserve units who never served overseas. The report attributed those higher rates, in part, to the fewer benefits available to those veterans.
VA officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment by DailyMail.com, however they have said in past reports that suicide prevention among the nation’s 20 million veterans is the agency’s ‘highest clinical priority.’
The report also called for the expansion of treatment and prevention services, as well as a focus on crisis intervention services.
‘These findings underscore the fact that suicide is a national public health issue that affects communities everywhere,’ VA officials said in a release. ‘Our goal is to prevent suicide among all Veterans—even those who do not and may never seek care within VA’s system.’
Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told the Wall Street Journal that not enough resources have been committed to the problem.
‘If any other population of 20 million people were exposed to these threats it would be considered a public health priority,’ he said.
In 2017, the inspector general of the VA discovered that the agency’s suicide hotline had routed a large number of calls to backup call centers – an issue that officials said has since been fixed.
The latest numbers follow a report released Tuesday describing the lack of follow up care for a veteran who had sought help through the Minnesota VA for suicidal thoughts. The vet killed himself less than 24 hours after officials released him from the hospital.