The Military, Veterans, and Suicide

On today, Memorial Day, I sadly note the dramatic increase in suicides among troops and veterans over the last decade or so.

In a recent article, the New York Times reported devastating statistics:

  • In 2002, the suicide rate among soldiers was roughly 10 per 100,000. Now the rate is 80% higher, at 18 per 100,000.
  • 350 soldiers died by suicide in 2012, a rate of one suicide almost every day of the year.
  • The number of suicides in 2012 surpassed the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan.
  • Since 2001, about 2,700 active-duty service members have died by suicide, not including National Guard and reserve troops.
  • The suicide rate among veterans has also experienced a slight increase, with 22 veterans a day dying by suicide in the U.S.

Many people may blame the increases in military suicide on the ongoing conflicts abroad and the stress of multiple deployments. But, as the article notes, about half of the soldiers who died by suicide had never been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.

To help stop the rise in suicides, several initiatives for active-duty military and veterans have been launched in recent years.

The Veterans Crisis Line is one such initiative. It offers assistance to veterans and active-duty military via a crisis line (1.800.273.8255, extension 1), text(838-255) , and chat . The full range of services is described at

Another initiative is the Military Suicide Research Consortium. This group, funded by the Defense Health Program of the Department of Defense, provides millions of dollars for suicide prevention research that will benefit the military. The MSRC’s website contains a wealth of information on military suicide and its prevention, including a collection of news articles about military suicide.

President Obama, in August 2012, ordered the VA to add staff and to abide by its standard to see any veteran with suicidal thoughts within 24 hours.

These initiatives are important steps toward reducing suicide in the military. Time will tell how effective they are.

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal


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  1. Tracye says:

    The VA is sorely lacking in addressing MH concerns with vets. I have PTSD, took 3 mos. to get the initial appointment and my sessions are 1-2.5 mos apart. How can you do therapy like that? Any wonder there are 22 suicides of vets a day? Most recently

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