Suicide Among Veterans

3 min read · 4 sections

A major, yet preventable health problem in the U.S. is suicide.1 Sadly, Veterans comprise nearly a quarter of suicide deaths in the U.S.

Suicidal Warning Signs

In 2020, there were 6,146 Veteran suicides, which averages to 16.8 Veterans dying by suicide every day.2 Additionally, in the two decades between 2001 and 2020, the prevalence of mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) among participants using Veterans Health Administration (VHA) rose from 27.9% to 41.9%.2

Other commonly cited factors leading to increased suicide risk in Veterans as well as other groups:3

  • Anger, rage, mood swings, and episodes of anxiety and agitation.
  • Expressing feelings of having no reason to live.
  • Increased alcohol and/or substance misuse.
  • Self-destructive and risky behaviors like driving while impaired.

Are Veterans at a Higher Risk for Suicide?

The suicide rate for Veterans is 1.5 times higher than that of the general population.4

Comparing the rate among women Veterans to non-Veteran adult women, the rate is 2.5 times higher.5 In 2017, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reported the highest suicide rate among women using VA health services at 20 per 100,000. Since 2017, however, that number has decreased and was recorded to be approximately 14 per 100,000 in 2020.2

Suicide rates have been historically high among young Veterans and older Veterans as well. In the 20 years between 2001 and 2020, the suicide rate among Veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 increased by 95.3%. During that same time period, the suicide rate among Veterans between the ages of 55 and 74 rose 58.2%. From 2019-2020, however, the suicide rate for older Veterans decreased while the suicide rate among Veterans in the 18-34 age group increased.2

Several other factors besides gender and age, play a role in higher suicide rates among Veterans. Certain emotional precursors may precede suicide events, including feelings of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, and depression.6 In a summary of multiple studies, the VA found a variety of factors that may increase the risk of suicide, especially where multiple factors exist. Some of these include:7

  • Acute psychosocial stressors.
  • Having low cholesterol.
  • Higher doses of opioid medications for pain control.
  • Insomnia.
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, manic-depressive disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Substance misuse, especially heavy binge drinking.

Connection between Substance Misuse and Veteran Suicide Risk

Veteran experiencing symptoms of suicide co-occurring with substance abuse and mental illness.

Alcohol and substance misuse can play a particularly and significant role in the increased risk of suicide. In fact, Veterans who misuse drugs or alcohol are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than other Veterans.8 In general, people misusing drugs and alcohol are more likely:9

  • To be depressed.
  • To have social and financial problems.
  • To engage in impulsive and high-risk behaviors.

More than 1 in 10 Veterans are diagnosed with a substance use disorder.10 Veterans are more likely to use alcohol; many also have a greater risk of opioid overdose.10

Veterans and Mental Health Care

Mental illness has strong links to suicide among Veterans. While alcohol and drug abuse accounts for higher suicide risk, other co-occurring mental disorders are often associated with substance misuse and suicide.8 The more common mental disorders among Veterans are PTSD and depression. For example, exposure to trauma or suffering a TBI while in the service can lead to increased risk of both substance misuse and PTSD or depression.10

Veterans coping with the dual diagnosis of substance misuse and PTSD are likely to have psychiatric and medical conditions, such as:10

  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • HIV.
  • Liver disease.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Seizures.

Treatment and Care

In spite of these grim realities, Veterans have plenty of reason for hope. The VA has doubled its efforts to address the challenges that Veterans face. With the passage of the MISSION Act of 2018, the federal government is making aggressive efforts at extending outreach to Veterans. Among other things, the MISSION Act:11

  • Includes provisions that enhance the recruitment of clinicians.
  • Authorizes access to community urgent care providers.
  • Expands telehealth services.

Treatment for Veterans at American Addiction Centers

The provision of increasing access to community care providers is especially beneficial to Veterans who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or intentions.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a community care provider. Some of our facilities offer the Salute to Recovery program that employs an array of addiction treatment methods and curriculum dedicated to military Veterans with substance use and mental health challenges.

Our admissions navigators are always available to assist you.

Call Now (888) 902- VETS

AAC’s admissions navigators will educate you on what the process looks like and what is needed in order for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for a private facility on your behalf.

Reviews for Veteran Rehab at AAC

No longer do you or your loved one have to feel isolated or entirely dependent on the VA for help. Because of the MISSION Act and AAC’s Salute to Recovery program, greater access to urgent care providers and treatment, in addition to crisis lines, provide much needed help and hope for the future.

See a testimonial about our Salute to Recovery Program.

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