Former troops are taking their own lives at about 2.4 times the rate claimed by the government, researchers have found
America's military veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate reported by the government, wiping out the equivalent of a platoon of former troops each day, an extensive study has revealed.
An average of 24 former service members are dying each day by officially declared suicides, 37% more than has been reported by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), according to a study released on Saturday by a not-for-profit group called America's War Partnership (AWP). An additional 20 veterans, on average, are dying each day by "self-injury mortality," such as drug overdoses.
The VA typically categorizes deaths caused by self-injury as accidental or undetermined, but AWP said such cases involve deliberate actions that prove fatal, in many cases deliberately. The group's study, which was done with the assistance of contract researchers at the University of Alabama and Duke University, was based on a "deep dive" into 2014-2018 data from eight states. The VA reported an average of 17.7 veteran suicides per day for that period.
"It's devastating," AWP president Jim Lorraine told NBC News. "I'm not only a veteran myself. My son serves, my son-in-law serves, my wife is a vet. I know a lot of veterans who have died from suicide."
AWP speculated that the undercounting of veteran suicides likely stemmed from human error and other factors that caused many deaths to be miscategorized. The study found that former troops with less than three years of service are at greatest risk of suicide, and those who were demoted during their military career take their own lives at a 56% higher rate than veterans in general. Each year of additional service reduces the probability of suicide by about 2%.
Among the various service branches, veterans from the Coast Guard have the highest suicide rate, followed by the Marines, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, the researchers found. Rates were about the same across gender and racial categories. Veterans who live with a partner, such as a spouse, are nearly 40% less likely to kill themselves.
A study last year by Brown University found that over four times as many US soldiers and veterans have died by suicide than in combat since America's "War on Terror" began in September 2001.