Suicide rates among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 soared in 2020 to ten times the rate of 2006 even though rates did not trend upward in the general U.S. population, according to an analysis published Monday.
Researchers examined recently-released records of 2.5 million servicemembers who fought in the post-9/11 wars going up to the year 2020 as mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder among currently serving members and veterans took a dramatic turn for the worse, the research brief, published in JAMA Neurology, found. In addition, veterans diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) were 56% more likely to commit suicide than other post-9/11 veterans and three times more likely than the general population.
Jeffrey Howard, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the study’s lead author, told the Daily Caller News Foundation he expected to see the disproportionate suicide rates among veterans with TBI exposure based off his previous research.
“However, what was new information here was the dramatic increases in suicide rates over the last 15 years within this specific post-9/11 cohort. That was pretty shocking actually,” Howard told the DCNF. (RELATED: ‘Wasn’t Well Thought Out’: Soldiers Disappointed After Army Quietly Unveils Suicide Prevention Guidance)
Between 2006 to 2020, 8,262 post-9/11 veterans took their own lives, which evens out to a rate of 42 per 100,000, the study found. The rate was just 18 per 100,000 in the general population over the same 15-year time span.
In 2020, the suicide rate among those veterans was 31.7 per 100 000, more than 57% higher than that of the general population, the study found. The 35 to 44 year-old age group showed the most risk followed by the 25- to 34-year-old group.
The VA’s 2022 suicide report examined rates for all veterans and showed an overall 9.7% decline from a peak in 2018, while that of the general population went down 5.5% over the same period. The JAMA study of post-9/11 veterans shows that the rate of suicide continued to climb since 2018.
“Some important differences include the fact that our cohort is composed of primarily younger veterans and mostly male veterans, both of which are at higher risk for suicide,” Howard told the DCNF.
The study’s cohort included veterans who served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001 and had received at least three years of care under the Military Health System or two years of care from Veterans Affairs (VA), selected as part of a deeper dive into effects of and treatments for TBI conducted with researchers from multiple universities, the military and the VA.
Its limitations include the possibility of misclassified deaths and underreporting of TBIs.
I’m looking forward to hearing what the candidates plan to do to end the veteran suicide epidemic. Veterans deserve a leader who cares about their livelihood. https://t.co/04uTYxDxhQ
— Russ Duerstine (@RussDuerstine) August 18, 2023
Increases in mental health diagnoses, substance abuse and access to firearms could contribute to the stark rise in cases, the study’s authors suggested.
“I think this points to the need to reevaluate how we are going about trying to reduce suicide,” Howard told the outlet.
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