VA Data Reveals Wide Disparities in Veteran Suicide Rates Between States
Nov 3, 2017
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) November 3, 2017 – Recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicate veteran suicide rates are particularly high in rural areas and the Western United States.
For the first time ever the VA released data on veteran suicide for each state. Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah had the highest rate of 60 suicides per 100,000 people. States in the West had an overall rate of 45.5. Both numbers are significantly higher than the national average of 38.4.
“Veterans returning home from the military may have a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life,” commented Jim Fausone, a Michigan veterans attorney. “As a result, they can feel overwhelmed by the challenges of finding work, dealing with health problems and building relationships. While the VA has expanded emergency mental health care and improved its suicide hotline, veterans could benefit from additional community support.”
The specific causes responsible for veteran suicide are not clear. However, the data suggests gun ownership, social isolation, opioid addiction and limited access to health care may contribute to the significant disparities in suicide rates between states. Many veterans living in the four states with the highest rates have no choice but to drive more than 70 miles to reach the closest VA medical facility.
The growing use of opioids and other prescription drugs are thought to be factors for high rates of veteran suicide in Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia. A 2016 VA study revealed that former service members who took higher opioid painkiller doses were at double the risk of suicide than individuals who received the smallest doses.
Other regions of the United States had suicide rates that fell below the national average. The VA data also highlighted drastic demographic differences. Female and elderly veterans are particularly at risk of suicide. Around 65 percent of suicide cases occur among veterans age 50 or older.
A RAND Corp. epidemiologist noted that the data suggests former service members face a set of unique problems. In addition, “no state is immune” as the suicide rate is at least 1.5 times higher for veterans than civilians across every state. The latest set of data was released following an analysis of national statistics the VA published last year in an effort to determine where to direct resources for suicide prevention and identify at-risk veterans
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