Veterans Take Their Own Lives More Than Reported, Researchers Find

( Data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that the veteran suicide rate decreased for the second year in a row in 2020, marking the fewest veteran suicides in a year since 2006. However, one suicide prevention group believes the VA’s data may not be accurate.

The VA’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report revealed there were 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020, down by 343 from the previous year. The average number of veteran suicides in a year also decreased from 17.2 in 2019 to 16.8 in 2020.

In an accompanying statement released with the annual report, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the report “shows real progress,” but conceded that “there is still so much work to be done.”

McDonough said the VA would continue to work with federal, state, local, and private partners to tackle the problem “and save veterans’ lives.”

The annual report also breaks down the data by the method of suicide, gender, age, and ethnicity.

The suicide rate declined across all racial groups from 2019 to 2020. Among female veterans, suicides dropped by 20.3 percent from 2019 to 2020.

However, a study conducted by America’s Warrior Partnership, a suicide prevention group, reported that veteran suicides are 37 percent higher than what the VA has previously reported.

According to Jim Lorraine, president of America’s Warrior Partnership, the methodology used by the VA is outdated.

In its study, “Operation Deep Dive,” America’s Warrior Partnership examined suicides and “self-injury mortality” (accidental or undetermined deaths) in people ages 18 to 64 from 2014 to 2018 using service records from the Department of Defense and death records from eight states.

The Defense Department would not comment on the results of “Operation Deep Dive.” Matthew Miller, from the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, said America’s Warrior Partnership might not be analyzing the same information as the VA and could be using a different approach.

According to VA press secretary Terrence Hayes, the agency takes every necessary step to ensure its veteran suicide data is accurate.