Young Veteran

Increasing Veteran Suicides are the Canary in the Coal Mine for Healthcare Institutions

The Data Tell a Tragic Tale

Much has been made of the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released it in June of this year. And for good reason. The findings are sobering, if not shocking:

  • From 2007 to 2017, the rate of suicide among Veterans jumped almost 50%.
  • The rate of suicide was 2.2 times higher among female veterans compared with non-Veteran adult women.
  • The rate of suicide was 1.3 times higher among male Veterans compared with non-Veteran adult men.
  • Male Veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 experienced the highest rates of suicide.
  • 69% of all Veteran suicide deaths resulted from a firearm injury, compared to about 50% of all U.S. suicides.

It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here. The stresses of accumulating multiple deployments are taking their toll and Veterans are reacting accordingly, despite concerted efforts by the military community and government to help them. But there are other forces at play here, too. 

Professionals at Private Healthcare Facilities Need to Take Heed

According to the report: “The rate of suicide among Veterans who have not recently received VHA services is increasing faster than the rate of suicide among Veterans who have recently received VHA services.“ In other words, while the VA may be beginning to get a handle on this tragic situation, private healthcare institutions are not. This is particularly frightening when you consider that over 70% of Veterans get ALL their healthcare in the private sector in any given year. And the recently passed Mission Act will increase that percentage.

If you’re an administrator at a hospital or mental clinic, or if you’re a mental health provider, this has to grab your attention. There are lots of patients that need your help and many aren’t getting it. As the old saying goes: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Veteran Suicides Reveal Deeper Health Issues

But don’t think this particular problem—Veteran suicide—as tragic as it is, exists in a vacuum. Consider conditions commonly comorbid with suicide: mood disorders and substance abuse. These, too, need extra attention when caring for Veterans. Even more alarming: What about all the other chronic conditions Veterans are prone to as a consequence of the toxic conditions they serve under? If suicides are skyrocketing in the Veteran population, what about hypertension, heart disease, COPD and diabetes? A generation of Veterans is not getting the healthcare they deserve, much less the healthcare they need. And it’s only getting worse. ALL healthcare institutions and providers need to wake up to this problem.

Like the canary that dies in the coal mine, the VA’s suicide report may indicate an even more pervasive and dangerous situation. Are we prepared to treat it?

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