Veteran Suicides An Unintended Consequence of America’s “Big Stick” Foreign Policy

With moves by the current administration and chief current warhawk Mike Pompeo in particular, it is appearing increasingly likely that further actions in Iran will require that the United States put additional "boots on the ground" in the Persian Gulf region.  Thanks to data compiled by the Veteran's Administration, we have a pretty good idea how service in the United States military ends up impacting individuals that are forced to fight Washington's battles while those who make the decision to declare war sit safely and snuggly in their padded Congressional seats.

In a 2019 report:

…the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (or VA) looks at suicide statistics for Americans as a whole and compares the growth in non-veteran suicides to those Americans who have served their nation and are now veterans.  The report opens by noting that in 2017, in the United States, there were 39,251 non-veteran suicides and 6,139 veteran suicides meaning that one in every 6.4 suicides (or 13.5 percent) was a veteran.  This works out to an average of 16.8 veteran suicides every day in the United States.   In addition, there were 919 suicides among never federally activated National Guard and Reserve members in 2017, an average of 2.5 suicide deaths per day.  This brings the total to 7,058 suicide deaths in 2017 and an average of 19.3 suicide deaths per day.

Here is a graph showing the annual number of veteran suicides over the period between 2005 and 2017:

Here is a table showing the same data along with the average number of suicides per day:

In the fine print under the table we find this disclaimer:

"Previous VA reporting regarding average suicide deaths per day included suicides among Title 38 Veterans, current service members and former never federally activated Guard and Reserve members. In reporting on suicide deaths through 2016, information was provided regarding Title 38 Veterans and, separately, the number of deaths among former never federally activated Guard and Reserve. In this year’s report, we focus on the Title 38 Veterans, and in supplemental reporting, we provide not only counts but also rates for the former never federally activated Guard and Reserve. Information regarding suicide among current service members is available from the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office." (my bolds)

By removing current (active) service members , National Guardsmen and reservists, comparisons to the past levels of suicide among veterans become confusing as shown in this article in Military Times.

The report includes this graphic which shows the number of annual suicide deaths among non-veterans and veterans from 2005 to 2017 which makes the veteran suicide situation look positively rosy when compared to Main Street America:

This graph is somewhat misleading; while the number of non-veteran suicides grew from 31,160 to 45,390 over the twelve year period, an increase of 45.7 percent, the number of veteran suicides grew from 5,787 to 6,139, an increase of only 6.1 percent.  The problem is that this does not take into account the growth in the non-veteran population (an increase of 17.0 percent) and the shrinking number of veterans over the twelve year period (a decrease of 18.3 percent).  If we use the rate per 100,000 people, the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate for the overall U.S. population increased from 14.7 suicides per 100,000 to 18.0 per 100,000 between 2005 and 2017, an increase of 22 percent)  The age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate for veterans increased from 18.5 suicides per 100,000 to 27.7 per 100,000 between 2005 and 2017, an increase of 49.7 percent or nearly twice that of the non-veteran population.  When these corrections for age, sex and population are included, this is what happened to the suicide rate among veterans between 2005 and 2017:

When adjusted for population, differences in age and gender, the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times that of non-veteran adults.  Not surprisingly given their training, firearms were the method of suicide in 70.7 percent of male veteran suicide deaths and 42.3 percent of female veteran suicide deaths in 2017.

This is yet another unintended consequence of America's flawed "big stick" foreign policy, one that requires armed intervention.  Obviously, the steps that are being taken by the Veterans Administration to reduce the number of veteran suicides has been an abject failure.  While Washington expects that Main Street Americans will volunteer to lay down their lives for a war with an unclear purpose and a dubious outcome, we can count on one thing; they will not be there to help veterans when they really need help.

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