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Military affairs beat: 22 vets commit suicide each day

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • February 5, 2013 - 9:42 PM

Two seemingly contradictory conclusions came out last week from a report on veterans who have committed suicide.

In the past, data on veterans who died by suicide was only available for those who had sought Veterans Affairs health care services. But the latest report, billed as the VA's most comprehensive ever, includes state data for veterans who had not received health care services from VA.

The result: the report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has fallen slightly since 1999, but the estimated total number of veterans who have died by suicide has increased. Eh?

Bottom line: Today about 22 veterans a day kill themselves, up from the widely reported number of 18 a day from 2007. Recognizing they were facing a problem with incomplete data, in 2010 the VA asked the governors of all 50 states for their support in collecting suicide statistics. With real-time data now available, the VA says it can better identify veterans at risk, and can improve the department's ability to target outreach early and proactively.

Last year, the Star Tribune wrote about the Minneapolis VA hospital being faulted for policy lapses by the VA Inspector General after a despondent Vietnam veteran killed himself while under the VA's care (bit.ly/NtJyFn).

"The country should be outraged that we are allowing this tragedy to continue. The trends are headed in the wrong direction," Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement.

The report on veterans came out the same week the Army released the number of active duty suicides in its ranks last year, setting a record with 325, almost two-thirds of all military suicides. It also was a record year throughout the military, with 516 suicides across all branches.

Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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