This silent parade of deaths never makes YouTube

Of 20 daily suicides, six were users of VA services. On the surface, that looks like the VA itself is a factor in preventing suicide.

For the tabloid headline minded, the past few weeks have been mind-blowing.  We’ve seen episode after episode of violent multiple deaths — Dallas police officers (and the police arrest shootings that appeared to inspire them), Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, Orlando.

Without much publicity, another, steady-state drumbeat of violent deaths beats on and on, month after month. These deaths result in no Facebook or YouTube videos, no mad-cap news reporting, no mobilized protests, no furrow-browed TV punditry.

Yet, we are reminded by Veterans Affairs, on average 20 veterans commit suicide every day. That’s a new calculation. Until now VA presumed the number to be a bit higher, 22.  VA reports its statisticians went through 55 million records covering 35 years, through 2014.  In undertaking this mass data mining, VA says it increased accuracy by including more geography than used for the earlier number. The last study, in 2010, looked at 3 million records from 20 states. The new study — to be published in full later in the month — covered all the states.

Twenty, 22, 21, whatever; 7,400 veteran suicides a year is an astounding, and astoundingly sad, number.  Even more telling in those 2014 figures is that veterans accounted for 18% of all suicides in the United States, but made up only 7% of the population.

VA released a few details ahead of the report. Each one raises a question for VA. For instance, 65 percent of veteran suicides in 2014 were committed by people 50 years of age or older.  How does this correlate with combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan under the presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder might be a driver of suicide?

The new figures show the suicide rate among young female veterans, ages 18-29, was more than double the overall U.S. rate. What does this portend for the new policy of women in combat?

Suicide has been rising across the board in the U.S. — up 23 percent since 2001. But veteran suicides are up 32 percent. The period, mostly post 9/11, would seem to belie the age distribution of suicides, so is there some veteran factor affecting propensity to suicide that transcends specific war service?

Of the 20 daily suicides in ’14, only six were users of VA services. On the surface, that looks like the VA itself is a factor in preventing suicide. But of the 14 non-VA users, how many were regularly in any program of medical treatment?

Lots of stats, numbers, and percentages. But of course each suicide tears a unique whole in a family or a community. The VA has a suicide prevention initiative, with hotlines, special web sites, and services available at its facilities. The department has no shortage of facts on suicides that have already occurred. Now it has a substantially larger base of data it can mine to get closer to understanding and cauterizing the root causes persuading a person to end his or her life.





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