Veterans and Suicide
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE, PLEASE CALL THE FREE AND CONFIDENTIAL NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE AT 1-800-273-8255. PRESS 1 TO BE CONNECTED WITH THE VETERANS CRISIS LINE.
In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, a total of 48,344 people died by suicide in the U.S. and more than half of those deaths (24,432) involved a firearm. According to the most recent Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the suicide rate for veterans is one in a half times the rate for non-veteran adults, after adjusting for population differences in age and sex. Every day, 17 veterans die by suicide, and 12 of those 17 veterans (69%) die from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. While veterans make up less than 8% of the U.S. population,3 they account for 18% of the nation’s gun suicide deaths.
The veteran community is uniquely at risk for suicide because they are more likely than their civilian counterparts to experience mental health injury and have access to very lethal means. Nearly half of all veterans own at least one firearm. In comparison, about one-third of U.S. adults own a firearm. Firearms are the most lethal method used in suicide attempts: While less than 10% of all suicidal acts are fatal, 90% of suicidal acts with a firearm result in death. Firearms are the method used in 70% of veteran suicides compared to 48% of non-veteran suicides. The availability of firearms and their lethal nature greatly increases the risk of a fatal outcome in a suicide attempt.
“I’ve had five friends take their life via firearms.”
“My father-in-law, [...] used a gun to kill himself. My sister, also a veteran, used a gun to kill herself. I've lost a lot of army buddies to suicide with guns too.”
A new survey conducted by Brady and Scoutcomms found that veterans are significantly impacted by gun violence. Our results found that 46% of current and former service members selected “yes” when asked if they have personally been impacted by firearm violence outside of combat.
In an open-ended follow-up question asking those who selected “yes” to provide further detail on how they have personally been impacted by firearm violence outside of combat, 71% of the qualitative responses were related to the suicide of a friend or family member.
Veteran Service Organizations Express Urgent Need for Action
The veteran community understands the gravity of this issue. Veteran service organizations across the U.S. are expressing the urgent need for action to combat the increase in suicide. There is an abundance of evidence from veteran service organization membership surveys that demonstrates the need for evidence-based approaches to preventing suicide through lethal means restriction, especially if many veterans are not currently seeking care for their mental health.
Access to Firearms Increases the Risk of Suicide
Multiple studies have linked the accessibility of firearms with higher suicide rates: States with the highest rates of household firearm ownership have higher rates of suicide overall than states with the lowest household firearm ownership rates, even though rates of non-firearm suicide are comparable across these states. Research shows that access to a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide death by 300%. Additionally, among individuals living in households with loaded firearms, the risk of suicide is three times greater than those in homes with unloaded guns.
Safe Firearm Storage Saves Lives
According to the VA, one way to reduce the risk of suicide among veterans is to build time and space between a veteran who has expressed thoughts of suicide by a firearm. Barriers put in place to prevent quick access to lethal means can delay a suicide attempt in the event of a short-term crisis, giving someone who is struggling with their mental health more time to seek help. In fact, research supports that storing firearms locked and unloaded can be an effective measure to reduce impulsive suicidal acts. Firearm owners who keep their firearms locked or unloaded were at least 60% less likely to die from firearm-related suicide than those who store their firearms unlocked and/or loaded.