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New VA study shows rising suicides among veterans and civilians

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Feb. 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
February 1, 2013 2:11 pm

Sen. Patty Murray is citing a new report on rising suicides from the Department of Veterans Affairs in urging the military to move quickly on a mental health reform package the carried last year.

The VA today reported that 22 veterans take their own lives every day, up from an average of 18 that the VA cited in past studies.

“This data provides a fuller, more accurate, and sadly, an even more alarming picture of veteran suicide rates. And while I am encouraged that VA has worked to collect the information needed to better understand the problem we face, this must lead to action,” Murray said.

President Obama last month signed an amendment she wrote that requires the Defense Department to standardize its suicide prevention efforts, and the Pentagon and the VA to open more behavioral health services to families of service members and veterans.

The author of the new study told The Washington Post that the problem of rising suicides is not exclusive to veterans. The study notes that suicides increased by 11 percent since 2007.

“There is a perception that we have a veterans’ suicide epidemic on our hands. I don’t think that is true,” Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study, told The Post. “The rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.”

Local statistics reflect Bossarte’s observation.

For instance, there were 240 veteran suicides in Washington in 1999 among a total of 797 self-inflicted deaths, according to databases The News Tribune obtained from the state Department of Health.

The number of veteran suicides did not change much between that year and 2010, when 219 Washington residents with military records killed themselves. Overall suicides climbed to 930 in 2010.

In 2011, 992 Washington residents took their own lives. I did not have a veteran breakout for that year. The worst year for veteran suicides in the data The News Tribune obtained was 2009, when the state recorded 242 self-inflicted deaths among veterans.

I counted the deaths by searching through raw data provided by the health department. The new VA study did not provide a state-by-state analysis, but those numbers might be available soon.

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