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Vet suicides grew to 24/day and VA likely undercounted, claims new study

Image for military suicide awareness. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)
September 19, 2022

A new study found that about 24 veterans committed suicide every day between 2014 and 2018, meaning more U.S. military vets died by suicide than the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) previously reported.

According to America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP), a nonprofit group that partners with communities to prevent veteran suicide, eight states actually had a higher rate of veteran suicide from 2014 to 2018 than the VA found in a previous study.

AWP’s study, dubbed Operation Deep Dive (OpDD) and released Saturday, “identified a 37% greater suicide rate than reported by VA for years 2014-2018. The difference in the data is likely due to undercounting of [veterans’] deaths and the greater specificity of the decedent’s demographics, military experience, and death details available to OpDD.”

The study determined that around 24 veterans killed themselves every day during that time period, contradicting the VA’s claim that there was an average of 17.7 suicides per day during the same period.

Looking at data from Alabama, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon, AWP researchers said the difference between AWP’s findings and the VA’s reports was likely caused by human error, as well as a lack of resources. 

“States undercount [veterans’] deaths at a combined error rate of 25%,” AWP’s study found.

“It’s devastating,” said Jim Lorraine, AWP’s president and Air Force veteran, according to 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.”

“We’re not pointing fingers at anyone,” Lorraine said. “We’re just saying it’s sobering to look at the numbers.”

AWP also determined that veterans who served for less than three years were more likely to die by suicide, and the likelihood of dying by suicide increased by a staggering 56 percent if the veteran has been demoted. 

The study noted that Coast Guard veterans were most likely to commit suicide, followed by veterans from the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force. 

AWP said the Defense Department and state records corroborated the study’s findings. 

Terrence Hayes, VA press secretary, told NBC News that veteran suicide is the most important clinical issue at the agency and the methodology used for the VA’s National Suicide Prevention report was “well-established and consistent.”

“We take every step possible to make sure that our veteran suicide data is accurate, because the first step to solving this problem is understanding it,” Hayes said in a statement. “The bottom line is this, one veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to accurately measure veteran suicide so we can end veteran suicide.”

Lorraine, who retired after nine combat deployments, said the AWP study “belongs to the nation.” 

“Together, we can do better,” he said. “We can make a significant dent.”