VA report indicates suicide rate for veterans about twice the rate for civilians

FILE - In this June 21, 2013, file photo, the seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington. A new first-of-its kind government study finds suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas. The numbers suggest that social isolation, gun ownership and limited health care access may be factors behind the higher numbers. The Department of Veterans Affairs released data Sept. 15, on suicide by state. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The suicide rate among Rhode Island and Massachusetts veterans is about double the suicide rate for the rest of those states’ residents, and the national veteran suicide rate is nearly three times the U.S. civilian rate, according to a report produced by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Among the statistics revealed in the report, which is based on data gathered from 2001 to 2014, on average 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

VA Secretary David Shulkin called the findings from the report that was released this month, “deeply concerning.”

In Rhode Island, the veteran suicide rate was 25.1 per 100,000, nearly double the state’s suicide rate of 12.7.

The number was slightly lower than the veteran suicide rate for the entire Northeast, and sharply lower than the national veteran suicide rate of 38.4 per 100,000.

According to the report, in Rhode Island in 2014, 16 veterans committed suicide.

On average, 20 veterans commit suicide every day.

The Rhode Island total included an asterisk that demotes the rate was calculated with fewer than 20 suicides, meaning “the rate should be considered unreliable”, according to the report.

But Providence VA Medical Center Public Affairs Officer Winfield Danielson said no matter the number or the rate, the problem is disturbing.

“I think we’re all in agreement that even if it’s one,” Danielson said. “The number of veterans that we have committing suicide is a tragedy and is completely unacceptable.”

Danielson echoed one of  points made in the report that indicated in 2013 and 2014, on average six of the 20 veterans who committed suicide each day were recent users of VHA healthcare services.

Danielson said the VA hopes to get more veterans involved in the system, which he said is set up to help them through difficult times that could lead to suicide.

“These tragedies are preventable. People need to learn the warning signs,” Danielson said. “They need to get veterans to take advantage of the mental health services and resources that are available to them in the VA.”

Danielson said the veteran crisis hotline can be called by friends and family members of veterans who are presenting suicide warning signs that include feelings of hopelessness, claims of being a burden to loved ones and hateful attitudes toward others.