“22 a day” is a mantra many veterans and active duty service members silently repeat over and over. Many even wear a metal bracelet to signify the importance of that number to them.
The number 22 refers to a 2012 VA report citing the number of veterans, active-duty troops, Guard and Reserve members who commit suicide per day. Since that report new studies have shown, and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie confirmed, the number of suicides has dropped to 20.
In a new report released on Thursday, the average number of veteran suicides per day was 17.6 in 2018, but that number does not include active-duty troops or Guard and Reserve members. The report also found the rate of suicide among Veterans who received recent VA care decreased by 2.4 percent. The report includes analyses of veteran suicide from 2005-2018 and findings from ongoing monitoring of VA health system suicide-related indicators during the COVID-19 pandemic. When combined with 1.5 active-duty troops or Guard and Reserve suicides from a 2019 DoD report, the number still remains at 20.
Wilkie said most of the suicides are veterans who are not in the VA system and most of those are Vietnam veterans. Wilkie said his department is working to reach those veterans and get them into the system.
“Of those 20, 18 to 16 are not in the VA,” Wilkie said. “Most of those are from my father’s generation — the Vietnam war. President Trump signed legislation that allows us to actually spread resources out into the community, local governments, charities and faith-based organizations to help us find those veterans.”
Wilkie was referring to “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide,” an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on June 17. PREVENTS is a nationwide plan to raise awareness about mental health, connect veterans and others at risk of suicide to federal and local resources, and facilitate focused and coordinated research into suicide.
“Veteran suicide is a tragedy this country started measuring in the decades following the Civil War, but one that sadly went unaddressed for generations,” said Trump when he signed the order. “Today, my administration is taking steps to ensure the men and women who bravely fought for us when they were called will be given the care and attention, they need during some of their darkest hours. Our veterans will lead the way for all Americans as we end the stigma that for too long has kept us from talking openly about mental health and thwarted our efforts to provide the kind of assistance and support that will save lives.”
Wilkie said PREVENTS aims to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government and in the private sector to work side by side to provide veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need. By employing a public-health approach to suicide prevention, Trump’s roadmap will equip communities to help veterans get the right care, whenever and wherever they need it.
“America has never addressed the issue of solider suicide,” said Wilkie. “The issue first appeared in the 1890s, in places life Fort Gibson and Fort Sill, where you had a tremendous number of soldiers taking their lives and the Army started keeping statistics. This is the first time that every element of the government is focused on trying to curtail and reduce this number.”