Every 65 minutes, a military veteran commits suicide, according to a comprehensive report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Feb. 1.

The most exhaustive investigation of its kind, which drew information from states’ mortality records, Suicide Behavior Reports, and Veterans Crisis Line—the new study revealed that every day during the years 1999 to 2010, 22 former service members committed suicide.

“The mental health and well-being of our courageous men and women who have served the Nation is the highest priority for VA, and even one suicide is one too many,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement.

“We have more work to do,” he added, “and we will use this data to continue to strengthen our suicide prevention efforts and ensure all Veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.”

As veterans age, the more likely they are of attempting or committing suicide. According to the report, more than 69 percent of all suicides by military veterans were among those aged 50 years and older.

The news comes after a report showing a record-setting number of suicides among active duty soldiers. Last year, 349 members of the armed forces took their own lives, the military said, more than were lost during combat.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the deaths an epidemic attributable to the 10-year-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq along with the everyday stresses of life, including the economy.

“It is one of the most tragic issues that we deal with right now in the military,” Panetta told a Georgetown University audience on Feb. 6. “There is no question in my mind that part of this is related to the stress of war over the last 10 years, the fact that we have deployed people time and time again.”

Both the Department of Defense and the VA Department have been actively attempting to stem the tide of suicides over the past couple of years.

The VA has launched a new crisis line and website allowing those in need to reach out by different means including text and online chat. The crisis line received a 50 percent boost in staff following its creation, and has saved approximately 26,000 actively suicidal veterans.

The department has also waged a months-long public awareness campaign to educate friends and family of veterans on how to help their potentially suicidal loved one.

Panetta said the DoD has also pursued several avenues including hiring more health care professionals, managing deployment rotations on a “rational basis,” and educating soldiers on how to spot and respond to signs of suicidal tendencies among their fellow troops.

“All of us need to be part of the answer to … make sure that this does not happen,” Panetta said. “There’s no ‘silver bullet’ here. I wish there was.”

But, he added, ultimately it is important to “convey a message to those men and women in uniform that we treasure—we treasure—those who are willing to put their lives on the line. We are not going to take them for granted.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO