The average number of veteran suicides per day in the United States has fallen to the lowest it’s been since 2006, according to new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data, but those figures might not paint the whole picture.
The VA’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, released Monday, found that there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths in 2020, or about 16.8 a day.
The new figure is 343 fewer suicides than in 2019 and 650 fewer than in 2018, appearing to reflect positive gains in efforts to give veterans and discharging service members mental health care and support, VA officials said.
“This year’s report shows real progress, but there is still so much work to be done,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement Monday. “One veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to work with our federal, state, local and private partners to tackle this problem and save veterans’ lives.”
Combined with active-duty and Reserve suicides, the total is much higher, about 20 suicides a day.
And veterans remain far more likely to die by suicide than their civilian peers. There are about 31.7 suicide deaths per 100,000 veterans per year compared to the 16.1 suicide deaths per 100,000 civilians.
But the figures, released on a two-year lag while the VA compiles the data, might tell only one side of the story.
Two days ahead of the report’s release, a separate, independent study found that more veterans died by suicide than the VA had previously counted.
The number was 37 percent higher in eight states from 2014 to 2018, according to officials from the national nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP), which worked with the University of Alabama and Duke University on its study.
The group’s four-year study, known as Operation Deep Dive, examines accidental or undetermined deaths in people ranging from 18 to 64 years old using service records validated by the Defense Department.
Tallying deaths from accidental drug overdoses, high-speed car accidents with a single driver, drowning and counting individuals whose veteran status was inaccurately reported at the time of death, AWP officials found that as many as 44 veterans could be dying by suicide per day.
The VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s national director of suicide prevention, Matthew Miller, said the VA’s report can’t be compared with the AWP study, as the two might not be drawing from the same information and could be using different approaches, Stars and Stripes reported.