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Complicated variables in studies of veteran suicide

Complicated variables in studies of veteran suicide

The Veteran’s Health Administration published its report in September, important because September is Suicide Awareness Month. Around the same time, America’s Warrior Partnership released a report that greatly differs from what the VHA has stated in the past.

The VHA stated:

• Currently 17 veterans have died by suicide every day since 2017.

• There were 343 fewer veterans who died by suicide in 2020 than in 2019, and 2020 had the lowest number of veteran suicides since 2006.

• In 2020, suicide was the 13th leading cause of death among veterans overall, and it was the second leading cause of death among veterans under age 45.

AWP also found:

• AWP research shows that approximately 24 veterans die per day by suicide.

• Approximately 20 veterans die per day from Self-Injury Mortality (SIM), which is something that the VHA does not often specify in their reporting.

• If these eight states collectively represented the national rate, the combined death rate would be at least 44 veterans per day, which is 2.4 times higher than the VA suicide rate.

So, who is correct? That answer is not an easy one.

On September 29, one of the representatives of the VHA, Matthew Miller, Ph.D., MPH, testified that they are 100 percent confident in their research in comparison to any other non-VA reports.

First off, it is important to analyze the correct data. AWP’s research is only including data from 2014 to 2018, while the most recent VA report is from 2020 data.

Second, it is also important to understand that the VA and the AWP have different definitions of suicide and self-injury mortality.

The representatives of the VA told the members of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs that it is difficult to understand whether the death is intentional or unintentional, especially when it comes to overdoses. But the VA does not provide statistics on death from self-inflicted injuries, such as accidents or drug overdose.

America’s Warrior Partnership also testified in the House Veteran Affairs Committee on September 29 and stated that they found that states had a combined 25 percent accounting error in identifying veterans while being processed following their death, meaning undercounting them.

While the data has not been officially released, the AWP has indicated that women veterans are more likely to not be identified as a veteran. So, this could mean that the number of women veterans could be much higher than we currently know.

There is hope that there is a partnership and shared compassion for our veterans, because despite it being 17 veteran suicides a day or 24 veteran suicides a day, it is still too many.

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