Veteran Suicidality Rate: Suicide Rate Among Veterans and How COVID-19 Effects Suicidal Ideation

Category: Veterans Disability Law

Article by Tuley Law staff

Veteran Suicidality Rate: Suicide Rate Among Veterans and How COVID-19 Effects Suicidal Ideation

Individuals serving in the military frequently undergo extreme stressors. After leaving the military, they are often neglected by the communities they came from. Suicidal thoughts and ideations in veterans are more prevalent than they are in average citizens. Many scientists are also wondering how the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting veteran suicidality rates. Although more research is necessary, the reasons for this speculation are legitimate enough to cause concern.

Veteran Suicide Rate Trends

For decades now, veteran suicide rates have been steadily rising. Among growing mental and emotional stressors, this could also have to do with a shrinking veteran population. The rate is calculated by using percentages of the total population. The total population of veterans has been slowly decreasing over the years, meaning that every suicide represents a larger percentage of the veteran population. The flat number of suicides has not increased as much as the unadjusted rates have. Regardless of these adjustments, veterans are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population. 

What Are Some of the Primary Causes of Suicide Among Veterans?

A variety of factors contribute to the veteran suicide rate. One of the main stressors that veterans have to deal with is financial insecurity. A military service member receives an income based on their position for daily living expenses. Depending on their role in the military, they may be trained to do a specific job or learn skills that are transferable to the job market after discharge. Veterans who are disabled during their time in the military are also eligible for compensation from VA. For veterans who were not disabled, and did not learn any applicable skills, it can be very difficult to make a livable wage. If a veteran doesn’t make enough money to eat a proper diet or finance a home for shelter, they are at a much higher risk of committing suicide. Poverty and financial stressors can make life seem hopeless at times, which contributes heavily to suicidal thoughts.

Another factor contributing to veteran suicidality rates is emotional trauma. Individuals who commit suicide or experience suicidal thoughts often have comorbid mental illnesses. This means that these individuals struggle with more than one mental issue concurrently. Members of the military are frequently exposed to high-stress, intense situations that can put a strain on their mental health. They also witness brutal and traumatic things that can have a lasting impact on their overall wellness.

Some of the more common conditions that veterans return from deployment with include depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and PTSD. The disproportionately high percentage of veterans with one or more of these disorders puts their population at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or ideation.

The last potential contributing factor is physical disability. Although veterans with physical and mental disabilities may receive financial compensation, other aspects of their lives can be significantly damaged when they become disabled. For veterans who lose their ability to move efficiently, think coherently, or interact with others in a healthy way, daily life becomes much more difficult. While many programs are in place to combat these challenges, veterans are still at a higher risk of suicide than the general population. 

Veteran Suicide Prevention

Within the last few years, there has been an increase in funding towards VA outreach programs, public awareness campaigns, and department training mandates to decrease veteran suicidality rates. In 2018, roughly 6,400 veterans died as a result of suicide, an increase from previous years. Because of increases in veteran suicidality rates, lawmakers began to fear that their prevention programs were not having the intended effects. However, when adjusted further, it was found that veterans who recently received some form of VA care were 2.4% less likely to commit suicide than the average veteran. Rates among veterans who did not use VA services increased by 2.5% between 2017 and 2018.

This data supported the methods and strategies VA was using to decrease veteran suicidality rates. While many different factors are at play in causing suicidal thoughts in veterans, there are many resources that can be used to counteract those factors. As time went on, the potency of those programs continued to increase and focus their efforts on struggling veterans.

While there has been an overall increase in veteran suicides between 2001 and 2019, VA reported a recent decrease. According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report released by VA, 2019 saw unprecedented drops in veteran suicidality rates. There were 399 fewer veteran suicides in the year 2019 than in 2018. These promising results for veteran suicide prevention programs showed VA that it was on the correct path. 2020 statistics are not yet available from VA due to the unprecedented global pandemic caused by the SARS CoV-2 virus.

Suicide Rates Since COVID-19

In the past, epidemics have been known to cause a decrease in suicide rates at first, then an increase after. A study of the COVID-19 pandemic across multiple middle to high-income countries showed suicide rates did not increase significantly during the early months of the pandemic. This research study compared suicide rates of January 1, 2019-March 31, 2020 to suicide rates of April 1, 2020-July 31, 2020. Although there were increased rates of anxiety and depression, the number of suicide deaths seemed to be largely unaffected.

Researchers speculated that this could be due, in part, to the increase in financial and mental health services during the pandemic. The early recognition of potentially stressful situations caused many individuals to prepare themselves for hard times. Financial assistance during the pandemic was also referenced as a possible beneficial factor in reducing suicide rates. It should be noted, however, that after the pandemic, many of these resources are being withdrawn or reduced; this could ultimately result in the suicide rates being affected. There are multiple limitations to this study, including its brevity, potential inaccuracies in reporting, and use of only middle to high-income countries. The general findings still suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic did not have a significant positive or negative impact on suicide rates in the U.S.

Loneliness and Suicidal Ideation

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, researchers worried that the elevated levels of stress and isolation might cause increased thoughts of suicide among all individuals. According to VA statistics, deployed veterans are already 40% more likely to commit suicide than the general U.S. population; non-deployed veterans are 60% more likely to commit suicide. With suicidal ideation after discharge disproportionately high to begin with, veterans were viewed as an at-risk population for suicidal thoughts going into the pandemic.

The elevated levels of loneliness brought on by the mandatory quarantine were expected to make it difficult for veterans to receive the social support they needed. A lack of social support and physical isolation are known to correlate with an increase in suicidal thoughts. To prove whether or not this hypothesis was true, a group of researchers performed a study on veterans before and after the pandemic began to gauge how they were adapting to the lifestyle changes.

Brandon Nichter’s Study

Brandon Nichter, a researcher with the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego, was one of the first to address the link between the COVID-19 pandemic and suicidal ideation among veterans. He and a team of researchers surveyed more than 3,000 veterans in November 2019 about their suicidal ideation. They surveyed the same 3,000 veterans a year later in November 2020, several months after the start of the global pandemic.

Against what might have been expected, suicidal thoughts among veterans actually decreased by about one-fifth. In November 2019, roughly 10.6% of surveyed veterans reported having suicidal thoughts. By November 2020, that percentage had decreased to 8%. One potential reason researchers have cited for this decrease is veterans’ increased tolerance for stressful situations. Their ability to deal with difficult times may be better than the general population because they are used to inconveniences and emotional trauma—which may have protected their demographic in the long run.

The other important finding from this study was that veterans who had COVID-19 at some point showed an increase in suicidal thoughts. While the total rates of suicidal ideation decreased, rates in afflicted individuals went up. This could, in part, be due to the lasting mental and physical health effects of the disease. Another potential factor is the immediate community of the veteran. It can be assumed that those who had COVID-19 might have also been involved in communities where others were affected by COVID-19. This could lead to the loss of peers, friends, or even family members.

Does COVID-19 Make Veterans Suicidal?

When dealing with the relationship between the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus and suicide in veterans, there are multiple other factors that need to be addressed. Without the presence of a longitudinal multi-dimensional research study, it’s hard to determine the actual causes of these trends. While it doesn’t appear that the COVID-19 pandemic increased veteran suicidality rates, it’s far too early to conclude that the pandemic ultimately decreased these rates. As more information is reported, perhaps the answer will become more clear, but for now, we cannot tell whether these changes are a result of the pandemic or other factors such as societal trends, current military involvements, and increasing financial and emotional stress on veterans.

Experienced VA Disability Lawyers at Tuley Law Office

Veterans who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations should seek professional help immediately. If you are experiencing negative emotions as a result of your service-connected physical or mental disabilities, reach out to our law firm for assistance in receiving the compensation you deserve.

Tuley Law Office has a reliable team of VA disability attorneys that are here to answer any questions you may have about the process of filing a VA disability claim. When you are under significant stress and coping with wellness issues, it helps to have experienced legal counsel provide advice and relevant information.

Contact our lawyers today calling (812) 625-2181 or by filling out our online contact form.

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