At the end of October, the Department of Defense issued its Annual Report on Suicide in the Military for the 2022 calendar year. Since 2011 there has been a continued increase in the number of active duty deaths with the vast majority of those deaths (93.1%) seen among “young, enlisted men.” In 2011 there were fewer than 20 active-duty suicide deaths per 100,000 military participants and there were 25.1 per 100,000 in 2022. Nearly half of these deaths (45%) were of people who had reported behavioral health diagnoses that include substance use, depression, anxiety, and trauma. Of the 114 military spouses who died of suicide in 2022, 48% of them had prior or current military participation of their own.
In the week after Veterans Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that suicide deaths among those former military participants rose to 33.9 per 100,000 from 32.6 in 2020. For younger veterans (under 45 years of age), suicide was the second most common cause of death and it rose 38.2% for homeless veterans since 2020, reaching the highest rate since 2001.
These reports of continued year-on-year increase in military related deaths are despite attempts to improve awareness and accessibility. It is over a year since the simplifying of the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number to 988 and the availability of military specific assistance through that resource. Senate hearings on the VA in September criticized continued delays in providing assistance to those seeking help. Montana Senator Jon Tester said, “we’ve had so damn many hearing on mental health, and it doesn’t seem like anything has changed.” Similarly, despite claims to have reduced the stigma of asking for help, the Marines saw the number of active duty suicides jump to 34.9 per 100,000 in 2022 from 23.9 in 2021.
A recent article in the New York Times has suggested a link between traumatic brain injuries caused by combat situations without specific individual events or impacts. They looked at artillery batteries that had extended periods of continual firing and a high number of suicides and PTSD disabilities among their veterans. Most of these veterans hadn’t been in direct combat situations and are being refused treatment because they lack “qualifying injuries.” The research on the effects of repeated impacts to the brain from sports should be a sign to the military that there are real dangers of permanent damage from many elements of participation even during training. Without addressing these injuries, and providing real timely resources for those already suffering, these suicide statistics are not going to improve.