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Veterans committing suicide at rate 2 times higher than VA data shows: study

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A veteran’s group aimed at reducing the number of veteran suicides has released a study showing that the suicide rate among veterans is over 30% higher than reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs and that states are undercounting veteran deaths at a combined error rate of 25%.

A study dubbed Operation Deep Dive from the veterans group America’s Warrior Partnership showed a 37% greater suicide rate among former service members than reported by VA from 2014-2018.

“The difference in the data is likely due to undercounting of FSMs (former service members) deaths and the greater specificity of the decedent’s demographics, military experience, and death details available to Operation Deep Dive,” the study explains.

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U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan
(Getty Images)

The more specific criteria in this study’s methodology were gathered from two sets of data, one from a collection of eight states and one from the Department of Defense.

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The state dataset was gathered from Alabama, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and Oregon from 2014-2018. The information used included demographics such as Social Security numbers, gender, age, marital status, race, state reported veteran status, date of death, manner of death, and other factors.

The Department of Defense dataset contained an active duty military personnel file, a personnel transaction file, and a reserve component data file.

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American flags have been planted on a grassy area of the Mall, (14th street NW at Madison Drive NW) each of them represents a veteran or a service member who died by suicide

American flags have been planted on a grassy area of the Mall, (14th street NW at Madison Drive NW) each of them represents a veteran or a service member who died by suicide
(Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“If these eight states collectively represented the national rate, the combined death rate would be at least 44 FSMs per day which is 2.4 times higher than the VA suicide rate,” the study said.

“What we found is across the nation with the states is that they undercount veteran deaths by about 18%, which means someone who served in the military is not annotated as having served in the military 18% of the time,” Jim Lorraine, President of America’s Warrior Partnership and United States Air Force veteran of 22 years, told Fox News Digital. “Inversely, the communities are counting people who never served in the military as service members 7% of the time so that’s a combined error rate of 25%.”

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The study also found that the probability of a veteran taking his or her own life decreased by 2% for every year that a veteran served and those who served in the military for less than three years are at the greatest risk for suicide.

Additionally, veterans who received a demotion during their service had a 56% increase in their odds of dying from suicide. 

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Lorraine told Fox News Digital that he hopes the Department of Veterans Affairs will analyze data at a more local level and incorporate more data related to self injury mortality, and overdose deaths, both accidental and intentional.

“Overdose rates and suicide rates among those who serve in the military is anywhere from 2 to 3 times greater than in the civilian population,” Lorraine said. “We don’t know why and we need to figure out why veterans are taking their lives like this.”

A staggering 30,177 American active military personnel and veterans involved in post-9/11 wars are estimated to have died by suicide – a figure at least four times greater than the 7,057 service members who were killed in combat during that time, a research paper published last year determined.

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Santa Fe, USA - November 11, 2010: A Vietnam veteran holds a US flag at a Veteran's Day memorial in Santa Fe, NM, backdropped by a deep blue sky.

Santa Fe, USA – November 11, 2010: A Vietnam veteran holds a US flag at a Veteran’s Day memorial in Santa Fe, NM, backdropped by a deep blue sky.
(iStock)

“The purpose of VA’s National Suicide Prevention report is to count every Veteran suicide so we can prevent every Veteran suicide,” the Department of Veterans Affairs told Fox News Digital in a statement. “Ending Veteran suicide and saving lives is our top clinical priority at VA, and we take every step possible to make sure that our Veteran suicide data is accurate—because the first step to solving this problem is understanding it.”

The statement continued, “Our methodology for creating this report is well-established and consistent, based on verified data from the CDC and DoD, and meets the quality and standards of a peer-reviewed publication. In the interest of full transparency, we release yearly reports detailing how we come to the conclusions in the Annual Suicide Prevention Report.  The bottom line is this: One Veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to accurately measure Veteran suicide so we can end Veteran suicide.”

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Lorraine told Fox News Digital he hopes to work with the VA on ways to better track and analyze data sets across the country and fill in any gaps. 

I think if we stay together, we can do better,” Lorraine said. “We can always do better preventing suicide and self injury mortality. I would welcome the VA to participate in our study and share data and then work with us on it and identify better prevention measures. We don’t see the study as America’s Warrior Partnership we see the study as our nation and it belongs to our people, it belongs to the states, it belongs to the VA, we want to bring everybody to the table.” 

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