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Overall Veteran suicide rate has declined but 18-34 age group continues to tick upward

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has released the most recent data for Veteran suicide rates and while the overall numbers are optimistic, one age group continues to see an uptick in the number of suicides.

The VA published data on 2005-2016, which is the most recent year for which data is available, statistics and analysis which examines national and state-level findings related to non-Veteran and Veteran death records. The report is part of a larger plan that is being used to evaluate and improve VA’s Suicide Prevention Program.

The current and former service member suicide county is on the decline, but rates for 18-34 year-olds have increased in recent years. The report says that an average of 20 current or former services members die every day.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release with the data that “Suicide prevention remains VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.”

Among the highlights from the report were several points:

  • From 2015 to 2016, the overall current and former service member suicide count decreased from 7,663 to 7,298 deaths (decrease of 365).
  • From 2015 to 2016, the Veteran specific suicide count decreased from 6,281 to 6,079 deaths (decrease of 202).
  • From 2015 to 2016, the Veteran unadjusted suicide rate decreased from 30.5/100,000 to 30.1/100,000.
  • Overall, the fact remains that on average about 20 current or former service members die each day, six have been in VA health care and 14 were not.
  • Rates of suicide were highest among younger Veterans (ages 18-34) and lowest among older Veterans (ages 55 and older). However, because the older Veteran population is the largest, this group accounted for 58.1 percent of Veteran suicide deaths in 2016.
  • The use of firearms as a method of suicide remains high. The percentage of suicide deaths that involved firearms was 67.0 percent in 2015 and 69.4 percent in 2016.
  • In 2016, Veterans accounted for 14.0 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults
    and constituted 8.1 percent of the U.S. adult population (ages 18 and up).

A note from the VA: The report “does not highlight the average number of suicides per day, a measure that is commonly misinterpreted as a rate. Unlike a rate, the count per day does not account for changes in population size. VA’s goal is to present complex suicide data in the most actionable format and to convey the key findings in the clearest terms.”  (Read the report for yourself here)

“Data are an integral part of our public health approach to suicide prevention,” Wilkie said. “These data offer insights that will help us build networks of support, interventions and research-backed suicide prevention initiatives to reach all Veterans, even those who do not and may never come to us for care.”

What is the VA doing to improve suicide prevention initiatives?

  • Developing the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide to guide VA personnel and stakeholders — including other federal agencies, state and local governments, health care systems, and community organizations — so that we, as a nation, can reduce suicide rates among all Veterans.
  • Implementing the Mayor’s Challenge to empower cities nationwide to build coalitions to prevent Veteran suicide.
  • Improving support on the 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline, which is available by calling 800-273-8255 and press 1; by sending a text message to 838255 or chating online at


Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for

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