Advocacy Issue Brief:
Suicide Prevention

The Situation

  • VA reports that 18 veterans take their lives each day, which equates to about 6,750 veteran suicides per year-or over 75,000 since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
  • Although only 1 % of Americans have served in the military, veterans represent 20% of suicides in the United States; and VA estimates that on an annual basis less than 25% of veteran suicides are receiving health care from VA.
  • The number of suicide deaths in the U.S. military surged to a record 349 in 2012 -more than the 295 Americans who died fighting in Afghanistan last year.
  • Reports indicate that deployed female soldiers have triple the suicide rate of those who do not deploy. Estimates rise from 5/100,000 to 15/100,000.

The Challenge

  • Suicide is a special concern in the military and veteran population-especially among war veterans and veterans recently separated from military service. Despite increased outreach initiatives, focused on decreasing stigma and targeted suicide prevention efforts within VA and DOD-only small improvements have been achieved.

The Solution

  • DAV supports implementation of the DODNA Integrated Mental Health Strategy to address suicide risk and prevention and improve mental health care and outreach to service members and veterans.
  • Outreach is key in getting veterans to seek help. DAV is encouraged with VA’s Make the Connection campaign that includes coaching into care tips for family members, as well as the Veterans Crisis Hotline and chat service which are part of VA’s comprehensive suicide prevention strategy.
  • DAV urges Congress to ensure sufficient resources are made available for VA mental health programs including Vet Centers, the promotion of evidence-based treatments for PTSD and specialty SUD services to achieve readjustment of war veterans and continued effective mental health care for all enrolled veterans needing such services.
  • DAV urges VA and DOD to continue research in this critical area and to improve its outreach efforts, continue anti-stigma campaigns, and identify and deploy the best, evidence-based treatment strategies for this population. Easy access to mental health services in primary care is essential to addressing and overcoming stigma frequently associated with seeking mental health care within DOD and VA.