Veteran suicides increased again in 2018

WASHINGTON — In 2018, 6,435 veterans died by suicide — 36 more than in 2017, according to new data released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

The VA compiles its data on a two-year lag and revealed for the first time Thursday the number of suicides in 2018. The average number of veteran suicides increased slightly from 17.5 each day in 2017 to 17.6 in 2018.  

Suicide among veterans remain disproportionately high, despite continued boosts to VA funding and efforts by Congress and the White House to curb the crisis. Veterans accounted for nearly 14% of suicides in America in 2018 but make up only 7% of the U.S. population. 

While veteran suicide is increasing overall, the rate decreased in 2018 among veterans who had recently received VA treatment. While suicides decreased 2.4% among recent VA patients, the rate increased by 2.5% among veterans who didn’t receive VA care. Of the 17.6 veterans who died by suicide every day in 2018, 6.5 had recently received VA treatment, while 11.1 veterans had not.  

“The data shows the rate of suicide among veterans who recently used VA health services has decreased, an encouraging sign as the department continues its work,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement Thursday.  

The report breaks down the method, as well as the gender, ages and ethnicities of veterans who died by suicide in 2018.

Veterans continue to use guns more than any other means of suicide. Firearms were used in nearly 70 percent of veteran suicides in 2017 and 2018. For the rest of the U.S. population, firearms were used in 48 percent of suicides. 

House Democrats pushed this year for Congress to address firearm safety as a method of suicide prevention. Congress passed a bill aimed at decreasing veteran suicide, but a measure about firearm safety was omitted. The provision would’ve directed the VA to train health care workers to talk with suicidal patients about the dangers of having easy access to guns and how to safely store them.