Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Tommy Sowers, left, talks with Brooke Robinson, a recreational therapist at the residential recovery center at the White River Junction, Vt. Medical Center on Dec. 19. Sowers toured the facility to learn about traditional veterans' and programs to treat post traumatic stress.
(USA TODAY) -- Young veterans just out of the service and receiving health care from
the government committed suicide at nearly three times the rate of
active-duty troops in recent years, according to new data released
Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA officials say
the data show that severe personal issues driving self-destructive
tendencies for those in uniform follow them when they leave the
military. The figures were released through a USA TODAY public records
"The rates ... are honestly alarming. This group of young
veterans appears to be in some trouble," says Janet Kemp, head of the
department's suicide prevention program.
The Army has struggled
with suicide among active-duty troops more than other service branches
during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the risk persists after
soldiers return to civilian life.
Veterans ages 18-24 enrolled in
the VA's health program killed themselves at a rate of 46-per 100,000 in
2009 and nearly 80-per-100,000 in 2011, the latest year of data
available, according to the figures.
Non-veterans of the same age
had a suicide rate during 2009 and 2010, the most recent data available,
of about 20-per-100,000, according to data from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
Thirty-six young veterans receiving some
form of VA health care committed suicide in 2009 and 65 died by their
own hand two years later. Among those in the broader age group 18-29,
the suicide numbers rose from 88 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.
overall suicide rate for active-duty personnel in the Army, which has
struggled with suicide more than other service branches during the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan, hovered at 22 per 100,000 during 2009-11,
according to military figures.
The number of soldier suicides
peaked at 185 in 2012 and a record rate for the Army that year of 30 per
100,000.Numbers for 2013 are not yet available.
Kemp says a
preliminary analysis shows that most of them were not receiving mental
health therapy, but rather had been treated for other health issues by
"They're young. They've just gotten out of the service,"
she says. "They're more concentrated on going home, getting jobs, for
the most part. They're not coming in for mental health care."
VA epidemiologist Robert Bossarte says a similar pattern was found among veterans in the past.
were were several studies after Vietnam that showed increases in
suicide and other forms of injury/mortality for about the first five
years following return from service," Bossarte says. "Those rates
(eventually) came down to be about the same as the rest of the
A positive sign in the new data, Kemp says, is that
suicide rates for male veterans of all ages who are diagnosed and
treated for mental health problems by the VA have fallen steadily from
2001-2011, in contrast to suicide patterns among non-veteran males.
same is not true, however, for female veterans, whose suicide rates
have not improved and remain higher than women who are not veterans,
according to the VA data.
Kemp says recent success in reaching
veterans through social media offers hope that more young people can be
brought into therapy.
Online chat connections with veterans
through the VA's suicide prevention office (hotline number is
1-800-273-8255) have increased from several hundred in 2009 to nearly
55,000 last year, VA data shows.
"If we can get them engaged in (mental health) services, we can make a huge difference, and that's encouraging," she says.
You may also like...
Weird Florida: A look back at some of the strangest stories of the year
Miracle Baby: Tampa toddler has 5-organ transplant
Broke Bad: Contest winner busted in synthetic drug ring
Here kitty, kitty: Lion escapes enclosure at Pasco sanctuary
Fake Cop: Man arrested 3 times for impersonating officer
Animal tragedy: Girl's miniature horse attacked by dogs
#ShortYellows: Florida quietly shortened yellow lights
Kittens shot: Officer shoots kittens in front of children
Popular photo galleries:
Faces of Meth: Devastating before and after photos of meth abusers
Trayvon Martin Shooting: Trayvon Martin crime scene photos and George Zimmerman injury photos
Hooters Winners: Winners of the 2013 Hooters swimsuit pageant
Rejected: Funny Florida license plates rejected by the DMV ***warning graphic***
Deadly sinkhole: Home collapses, man dies in giant sinkhole
Florida Sex Offenders: Look up sex offenders in any Florida neighborhood here
Restaurant Inspections: Look up inspection reports for any Florida restaurant here