WASHINGTON, D.C. — During National Suicide Prevention Month, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is leading an effort to help combat high rates of Veteran suicide in Virginia and across the country.
Suicide rates among veterans are approximately 1.5 times higher than those who have not served in the military. And according to a 2022 study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) , at least 65,000 veterans died by suicide between 2011 and 2020. However, the numbers are likely higher than the data being reported.
To help the VA better understand the scope of this crisis, Spanberger helped reintroduce the bipartisan Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, which would increase the available data on the root causes and risks factors for instances of Veteran suicide. Specifically, the bill directs the VA to compile a publicly available review of suicides by Veterans in the last five years.
“Those who have borne the battle deserve our strongest possible support. Amid an ongoing epidemic of Veteran suicide — both in Virginia and across the country, we need to make sure that the VA has a full grasp of the problem at hand,” said Spanberger. “By requiring the VA to review suicides by Veterans in the last five years, the bipartisan Veteran Suicide Prevention Act would give the American people more information about the mental health crisis facing America’s heroes.”
Under the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, the VA review would include:
- The total number of veterans who died by suicide during the five-year period;
- A summary that includes age, gender, and race;
- A list of the medications prescribed to, and found in the systems of, such veterans at the time of their deaths, and a summary of medical diagnoses by VA physicians that led to the prescribing of such medications;
- The number of instances in which the veteran was concurrently on multiple medications prescribed by VA physicians;
- The percentage of veterans who were not taking any medication prescribed by a VA physician;
- The percentage of veterans with combat experience or trauma;
- Veterans Health Administration facilities with markedly high prescription and patient suicide rates;
- A description of VA policies governing the prescribing of medications; and
- Recommendations to improve the safety and well-being of veterans.
Spanberger is leading the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act alongside U.S. Representatives Andrew R. Garbarino (R-NY-02), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06), Jim Himes (D-CT-04), Mike Lawler (R-NY-17), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY-04), and Joe Morelle (D-NY-25).
Click here for the full bill text.
In September 2022, America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP), a VSO dedicated to bringing light to the epidemic of Veteran suicide, published a report indicating that Veterans are taking their lives at a rate approximately 2.4 times greater than previously reported by the VA. AWP attributes its findings largely to the classification of Self-Injury Mortality (SIM) veteran deaths as accidents or undetermined. Over 80 percent of SIMs are coded as overdose deaths, which presents the concern that the VA may not be sufficiently representing the level of deaths by suicide due to opioid overdose.
These numbers are particularly concerning after the VA announced that reported Veteran suicides decreased in 2020, going in the opposite direction of national trends during the pandemic.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call or text 9-8-8 or chat online at 988lifeline.org. Veterans can reach the Veterans Crisis Line directly by dialing 9-8-8 and pressing “1.”