Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day

Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary, called the suicide rate among service members an epidemic.CNN  – by Moni Basu

Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher.

The figure, released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February, is based on the agency’s own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40% of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available. 

Who wasn’t counted?

People like Levi Derby, who hanged himself in his grandfather’s garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Caspar, by an Afghan child’s death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.

When Derby returned home, he locked himself in a motel room for days. Caspar saw a vacant stare in her son’s eyes. A while later, Derby was called up for a tour of Iraq. He didn’t want to kill again. He went AWOL and finally agreed to a dishonorable discharge.

Derby was not in the VA system, and Illinois did not send in data on veteran suicides to the VA.

Experts have no doubt that people are being missed in the national counting of veteran suicides. Luana Ritch, the veterans and military families coordinator in Nevada, helped publish an extensive report on that state’s veteran suicides.

Veteran confronts rape and suicide

Part of the problem, she says, is that there is no uniform reporting system for deaths in America. It’s usually up to a funeral director or a coroner to enter veteran status and suicide on a death certificate. Veteran status is a single question on the death report, and there is no verification of it from the Defense Department or the VA.

“Birth and death certificates are only as good as the information that is entered,” Ritch says. “There is underreporting. How much, I don’t know.”

Who else might not be counted?

A homeless person who has no one who can vouch that he or she is a veteran, or others whose families don’t want to divulge a suicide because of the stigma associated with mental illness; they may pressure a state coroner to not list the death as suicide

If a veteran intentionally crashes a car or dies of a drug overdose and leaves no note, that death may not be counted as suicide.

An investigation by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper last year revealed an alarmingly high percentage of veterans who died in this manner in Texas, a state that did not send in data for the VA report.

“It’s very hard to capture that information,” says Barbara van Dahlen, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour, a nonprofit group that pairs volunteer mental-health professionals with combat veterans.

Nikkolas Lookabill had been home about four months from Iraq when he was shot to death by police in Vancouver, Washington, in September 2010. The prosecutor’s office said Lookabill told officers “he wanted them to shoot him.” The case is one of many considered “suicide by cop” and not counted in suicide data.

Carri Leigh Goodwin enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007. She said she was raped by a fellow Marine at Camp Pendleton and eventually was forced out of the Corps with a personality disorder diagnosis. She did not tell her family that she was raped or that she had thought about suicide. She also did not tell them she was taking Zoloft, a drug prescribed for anxiety.

Her father, Gary Noling, noticed that Goodwin was drinking heavily when she returned home. Five days later, she went drinking with her sister, who left her intoxicated in a parked car. The Zoloft interacted with the alcohol, and she died in the back seat of the car. Her blood alcohol content was six times the legal limit.

Police charged her sister and a friend in Goodwin’s death for furnishing alcohol to an underaged woman: Goodwin was 20. Noling says his daughter intended to drink herself to death. Later, Noling went through Goodwin’s journals and learned about her rape and suicidal thoughts.

A recent analysis by News21, an investigative multimedia program for journalism students, found that the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000. The analysis of records from 48 states found that the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6% a year from 2005 to 2011 — more than double the rate of increase for civilian suicide.

Nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran, even though veterans make up about 10% of the U.S. population, the News21 analysis found.

The authors of the VA study, Janet Kemp and Robert Bossarte, included many cautions about the interpretation of their data, though they stand by the reliability of their findings. Bossarte said there was a consistency in the samples that allowed them to comfortably project the national figure of 22.

But more than 34,000 suicides from the 21 states that reported data to the VA were discarded because the state death records failed to indicate whether the deceased was a veteran. That’s 23% of the recorded suicides from those states. So the study looked at 77% of the recorded suicides in 40% of the U.S. population.

The VA report itself acknowledged “significant limitations” of the available data and identified flaws in its report. “The ability of death certificates to fully capture female veterans was particularly low; only 67% of true female veterans were identified. Younger or unmarried veterans and those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be missed on the death certificate.”

“We think that all suicides are underreported. There is uncertainty in the check box,” says Steve Elkins, the state registrar in Minnesota, which has one of the best suicide data recording systems in the country.

Websites become tool for stopping suicide

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki requested collaboration from all 50 states to improve timeliness and accuracy of suicide reporting, key to improving suicide prevention. At the time the VA released its last suicide report, at least 11 states had not made a decision on data collaboration.

Combat stress is just one reason why veterans attempt suicide. Military sexual assaults are another. Psychologist Craig Bryan says his research is finding that military victims of violent assault or rape are six times more likely to attempt suicide than military non-victims.

More than 69% of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older. Mental-health professionals said one reason could be that these men give up on life after their children are out of the house or a longtime marriage falls apart. They are also likely to be Vietnam veterans, who returned from war to a hostile public and an unresponsive VA. Combat stress was chalked up to being crazy, and many Vietnam veterans lived with ghosts in their heads without seeking help.

Even though more older veterans are committing suicide, it’s difficult to predict what the toll of America’s newest wars will be. A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30% of service members have considered taking their own life, and 45% said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

“There’s probably a tidal wave of suicides coming,” says Brian Kinsella, an Iraq war veteran who started Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit group that works to raise awareness of suicide. Between October 2006 and June 2013, the Veterans Crisis Line received more than 890,000 calls. That number does not include chats and texts.

President Barack Obama says there is a need to “end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops.” In August 2012, he signed an executive order calling for stronger suicide prevention efforts. A year later, he announced $107 million in new funding for better mental health treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, signature injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


10 thoughts on “Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day

  1. It must be difficult to enlist in the military with the intention of honorably serving your country, only to find out later that you’ve been used to carry out brutal atrocities for greedy corporations that work to undermine everything you thought you were fighting for.

    Or that you’ve honorably served your country, only to be tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper after they’re done using you.

    The real problem with these suicides is that it’s the decent people among the veterans who are killing themselves; it’s those that can’t live with the knowledge that they’ve slaughtered children and whole families for no valid reason. The lunatics who enjoy senseless murder are doing fine.

    On the one hand you can say that soldiers should know what they’re fighting for before they pick up a rifle and start shooting people, but on the other, they’ve been deceived about that fact just as the majority of the population has been deceived by the media too.

    1. jolly roger……..thats the upfront view…and a correct one too.
      There is a deeper aspect which in the end of an enlistment, has befallen the young person(almost exclusively the one volunteering) before he or she has signed on the dotted line. That aspect is the young are targeted via recruiters, told fables of untruth, promised a paying job and benefits and so forth…Then comes basic training, and advanced infantry training. Along that way, before even assigned a first duty station the military has made its reality know to each new person going through the process of learning…here is how you kill people…..here is how you WILL kill people….the silence of whisper is that you the new enlistee does no longer have the privacy of your own thoughts, your own sense of morality and you dare not make waves, should those thoughts question orders or the legal issues within them……For if you make waves, you are going to take it in the shorts…pay cuts and so forth…………SO! There the young recruit is already stuck between a rock and a hard spot…before even getting the first assignment….
      If those young people were actually fighting for the defense of our US Shores, most of what I have written above wouldn’t even be there. The enlistee would understand first the need, then the contribution he or she was making. There would be no wave making. The hand clasps of the ranks would be in unison….BUT……from first being intentionally deceived and up to the end of AIT, it becomes obvious to all, that the federal gov has used each and every one of them as though they were a stone to be picked up and tossed away at any moment…..And that is exactly what most will find to be true the entire time they remain in the service…..It’s a sadness so many never recover from and thereby, end up in the statistic column of this.article….The higher ups, both civilian and military…look the other way. This has happened during WW2 and every war afterward…The Marine General, Smedly Butler, whom I and others have referenced on this web site…saw that finally and dedicated the remainder of his life after retirement to informing all for the people whom he could that war is a racket….If he were here today he would be giving the Joint Chiefs of Staff and this wack-o nobody in the WH…the riot act..thats for damn sure….and who could not listen..He was a man who had been through the worst of the worst….and in the end woke up!!!
      This exposure on our civilian and military of today also holds for each house of the Fed Gov and the US Supreme court, especially them. who have a sworn duty to be a part of the balance………and those judges need to take off their black concealing innocence and be heard.Provided each yet has the ability to think. And I am doubtful of that on most of them……..
      robert beason in country vietnam . army, 1969 involuntary servitude

  2. Its a sad sad thing that our brothers and sisters who serve are treated so poorly, when the VA says making headway is having a few hundred thousand without any benefits,
    Why are these people being shafted? They can find the money to give benefits to ILLEGAL ALIENS but not men and women who have served their country, welfare benefits to millions of people who shouldnt get them but they dawdle with the wellbeing of our Brothers and Sisters who are in crises,
    Join together to fill the gaps,
    Any local vets who need help should be able to find help,
    I dont have much but offer my farm, food, and fellowship, while not a vet i have had my own challenges, and but by the grace of God i have been fortunate to always land on my feet, want to share what I can and my self hopefully be of service to some vets who may need help feeding their family or just need a diversion.

    1. I like you, Kulafarmer, have by the grace of god, always been able to land on my feet…..after difficult, challenging, personal times.
      One of the best ways i can imagine to curtail the Federal oppression of all our citizens is for some of the State Governments to say to the feds….
      We are no longer going to honor …such and such …federal laws.
      We no longer recognize federal courts nor the federal prosecutors.
      We in this state will no longer tolerate federal orders given which clearly violate the US Constit,.
      If you the Feds want to come and kill us all….well we are prepared to defend ourselves…
      If you the Feds want to withdraw the fed money chain to us…then do just that. Disconnect it. We in this state no longer pay any fed taxes either.
      If you the Feds want an overseas war, then you the feds go do it yourselves…no more citizens of this state will take part in such wars…….
      We this state have taken the top command of all military hardware and state national guardsmen within the bounds of this state.
      And no, this state is not getting out of the Union….
      We are here to stay and defend out states rights………and that is just what the above statements refer to…..States Rights….

      If many states would follow this, quick path of communication to the feds…the NWO would be face down in the mud…the big money hijack may be permanently over for now at least in the USA….
      I believe this can be accomplished without one shot fired…
      It just takes the first state or two to lead the way……..
      It will be interesting to witness the next couple, three years to come……
      I am right there as a volunteer nearly age 70, now, if need be….
      There’s got to be millions upon millions of american nationals across this land…who are right there also….regardless of age, color, education or sex…

      1. This is not about states’ rights as there is no such thing. Our states’ governments are set up via the same contract/charter as the federal government.
        Again, the states have no rights. What they do have is limited power granted by we the people for the exercise of our will. And there is not one state that has not, through wanton sedition, created unconstitutional infringements by the tens of thousands. The state governments are every bit as corrupt as the federal government, as they are in essence the grass roots of the insurgency.
        And by the way, the local governments have no rights either. Only people have rights. Governments are charged under contract with specific obligations which they take care of for financial gain. The governments’ only right is to obey the dictates of we the people. And the number one dictate has all along been, ‘Do not infringe upon our unalienable rights’. As the governments, state and federal, have infringed upon our rights, they have voided the contract which ‘allows’ them to exercise the limited authority we granted them.
        There is no government, state or federal, as the contract is breached to the point of being an open contract. The United States government and every state government represent a failed state.
        We the people are on our own and can have no further contracts until we reestablish ourselves as free sovereigns with the capacity to contract as such.

        1. Well said Henry,
          We see this here at every level of government and any form of resistance is met with more government suppression, a good example, while not everyone is in agreement with the sovereign rights of the Native Hawaiians, the many programs that were developed to help them as a group with funds derived from use of ceded crown lands have been purposefully implemented slowly or not at all, thus watering down the genealogical purity of the people, now after years of the state and local governments sweeping these issues under the rug, they are now modifying the required blood quantum for being eligible rather than just honoring the established agreements and looking at family lineage as a whole rather than by a percentage. Total bullshit, suppress, deny rights, deny benefits, fail to make payments, both to the people and the fund to support the programs, then change the rules when the government organization responsible for implementation finally starts making headway.
          I realize this is not exactly the same but is similar where these people served, were injured, then they are denied even the basic support afforded them under the law, all while the governing body runs up a tab on other programs that will eventually be pushed to the side, Ie, social security retirement benefits.

        2. I see, Henry. After reading through the button on this site…entitled, the united states constitution….there is little said within its writing to allow the states to oppose outright suppression via the federal government….to any state…so that as a state entity, it can say…look at this in the federal us constitution…..here is what a state has to protect itself from you the feds……

          I do understand the basis…that all any gov entity local or otherwise has comes from we the people…as granted….and that the entire country is a failed state….Not only that, its a long while back in our history, a failed…….state!

  3. If people haven’t figured it out by now, they want us DEAD. The intentional prescribing of psychotropic drugs that enhance violent tendencies to Vets is wide-spread. There are a few Poster Vets that they parade around to show how much they care. Just look at how many Vets are denied firearms ownership & are on Terrorist lists. The Communist were more merciful after WW2; they just rounded up their Vets in the middle of the night, shot them & buried them in mass graves. Vets pose the greatest threat to their dictatorial control of a government.

    Sargent Major Rutledge has a short mustache.

  4. Oh yea, it is no wonder why the veterans are commiting suicide. I have seen the drugs that the VA give the vets up in minneapolis. Yep, I used to drive my neighbor up there twice a week. They had her on 15 different drugs. Yea, them wanna be dr.s at that va were giving her three maio`s combined with a couple ssri`s. Anyone that knows anything about bad drug combinations know that that kind of drug combination causes strokes and seizures guarenteed. Yep on top of that crap they even did give her anti-seizure medication. I told her about that and even showed her volumes of info. on drug interactions, and all she said was ” the va would never do that, they talk amongst them selves and would never prescribe bad drug combinations. “

  5. “A year later, he announced $107 million in new funding for better mental health treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, signature injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    NOT out of any compassion or sympathy for the vets.

    As we all know, it’s simply a ploy to target them for gun confiscation.

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