The most commonly cited figures in reference to veteran suicide rates are those of 22 per day, or one every 65 minutes. These numbers come from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) in their February 2013 report on veteran suicide rates in the United States.


"But experts say there are many more veteran suicides that are not being counted"


THE 22

Who wasn't counted?

People like Levi Derby, who hanged himself in his grandfather's garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Casper, by an Afghan child's death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.

When Derby returned home, he locked himself in a motel room for days. Casper saw a vacant stare in her son's eyes. A while later, Derby was called up for a tour of Iraq. He didn't want to kill again. He went AWOL and finally agreed to an "other than honorable" discharge.

Derby was not in the VA system, and Illinois did not send in data on veteran suicides to the VA.

Experts have no doubt that people are being missed in the national counting of veteran suicides. Luana Ritch, the veterans and military families coordinator in Nevada, helped publish an extensive report on that state's veteran suicides.

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Part of the problem, she says, is that there is no uniform reporting system for deaths in America. It's usually up to a funeral director or a coroner to enter veteran status and suicide on a death certificate. Veteran status is a single question on the death report, and there is no verification of it from the Defense Department or the VA.

"Birth and death certificates are only as good as the information that is entered," Ritch says. "There is underreporting. How much, I don't know."

Who else might not be counted?

A homeless person who has no one who can vouch that he or she is a veteran, or others whose families don't want to divulge a suicide because of the stigma associated with mental illness; they may pressure a state coroner to not list the death as suicide

If a veteran intentionally crashes a car or dies of a drug overdose and leaves no note, that death may not be counted as suicide.

An investigation by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper last year revealed an alarmingly high percentage of veterans who died in this manner in Texas, a state that did not send in data for the VA report.

"It's very hard to capture that information," says Barbara van Dahlen, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour, a nonprofit group that pairs volunteer mental-health professionals with combat veterans.

Nikkolas Lookabill had been home about four months from Iraq when he was shot to death by police in Vancouver, Washington, in September 2010. The prosecutor's office said Lookabill told officers "he wanted them to shoot him." The case is one of many considered "suicide by cop" and not counted in suicide data.

Nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran, even though veterans make up about 10% of the U.S. population.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki requested collaboration from all 50 states to improve timeliness and accuracy of suicide reporting, key to improving suicide prevention. At the time the VA released its last suicide report, at least 11 states had not made a decision on data collaboration.

More than 69% of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older. Mental-health professionals said one reason could be that these men give up on life after their children are out of the house or a longtime marriage falls apart. They are also likely to be Vietnam veterans, who returned from war to a hostile public and an unresponsive VA. Combat stress was chalked up to being crazy, and many Vietnam veterans lived with ghosts in their heads without seeking help.

Even though more older veterans are committing suicide, it's difficult to predict what the toll of America's newest wars will be. A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30% of service members have considered taking their own life, and 45% said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

"There's probably a tidal wave of suicides coming," says Brian Kinsella, an Iraq war veteran who started Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit group that works to raise awareness of suicide. Between October 2006 and June 2013, the Veterans Crisis Line received more than 890,000 calls. That number does not include chats and texts.
(excerpted from CNN.com)