Veteran Suicide is America’s Fault


Miles Hatch, Contributor

Veterans are people. They are our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, and our fathers. When they decide they cannot bear to exist anymore, it leaves holes in our communities. Firearms are used in most suicides involving veterans.

The 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report from the Department of Veterans Affairs found that, “In 2019, among the average 17.2 Veteran suicides per day, an estimated 6.8 suicides per day were among those with VHA [Veteran Health Administration] encounters in 2018 or 2019, whereas 10.4 per day were among Veterans with no VHA encounter in 2018 or 2019.” 

Veterans fight for our country, putting their lives on the line in order to protect the freedom of our nation and are being underserved as they return from service.

There is no one reason for suicide, but there are issues that can be easily fixed. Veterans deserve all the support that America has promised them. Burdening factors such as housing, employment, and healthcare shouldn’t be problems that veterans have to worry about, and yet they are.

Another factor that plays a role in suicide prevention is access to lethal means, specifically guns. From the White House’s new national strategy, Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide: Advancing a Comprehensive, Cross-Sector, Evidence-Informed Approach, “75 percent of suicide attempts advance from thought to action within 60 minutes or less.”

This impulsive reaction from thought to action is emboldened when firearms are in the mix.

While the strategy acknowledges that where there are more lethal means available there is more suicide, it mentions nothing of gun control. In 2019 nearly 70% of veteran suicides were by firearm.

“The temporary nature and fleeting sway of many suicidal crises is evident in the fact that more than 90% of people who survive a suicide attempt, including attempts that were expected to be lethal, do not go on to die by suicide,” writes Matthew Miller, M.D., Sc.D. and David Hemenway, Ph.D. the co-director and director of the Harvard School of Injury Control and Research, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

90% of survivors of suicide do not go on to die by suicide. Veterans who commit suicide by firearm are rarely afforded a second chance.

Miller’s research, which included surveying American households, further showed, “…in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher. The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.”

Veterans are people who are oftentimes susceptible to suicidal tendencies. Mental illness as a result of service is prevalent and yet still difficult to identify and treat. Combining easy accessibility to guns with people who have experienced extremely intense events is a recipe for disaster.

In our society, guns are as easy to buy as clothes. They can be bought at Walmart, background checks are minimal, and oftentimes veterans have a lot of guns.

The societal factors that contribute to veteran suicide can not be ignored. And yet, when it comes to America, they largely are.

A suicide prevention coordinator with the VA, who wished to remain anonymous, said of veterans: “These are people who are sent to war and really know how to use guns and are comfortable with them, and a lot of them know how to use them responsibly, but the problem is that they are around.”

The VA tries to combat veteran suicide by firearm by providing gun locks and training on safe storage.

The suicide prevention coordinator that I spoke with said, “Even things like gun locks, which people scoff at, because you know you can just get the key and open it, if it adds a few steps, if it just takes a little bit more thought and deliberation to unlock the gun, that will snap a person out of the impulsive rush.”

It is obvious that there is no one cause for suicide amongst anyone, nor is there one answer, but there are limiting factors that could easily be put in place. 

America is ready for change and what needs to change now is the accessibility to guns. I believe that there should be more federal policy surrounding the sale of guns and the ease of access that exists in certain places. Background checks should be rigorous and strict. Military grade weapons should not be in civilian hands. Gun locks and storage boxes should be provided for free if background checks are met.

Obviously a matter such as veteran suicide should not be polarized, but there is a gun culture that is apparent among people who claim to be patriotic. These people either are, or choose to be, ignorant of the fact that when guns are more accessible there are higher suicide rates.

These groups of people claim that guns don’t kill, people do. What happens when the people end up killing themselves? Is it their fault that they had a moment intense enough to lead them to make such a final decision. Is it their fault that they have experienced such traumatic and severe events that leave lasting scars both seen and unseen?

Mental health has been stigmatized for so long, especially amongst veterans, who my contact at the VA refers to as a, “proud bunch.” HeMy contact continued, “It’s hard for them to ask for help and it’s hard for them to show that they need help.”

The dilemma now is that veterans who are struggling from mental health issues also have easy access to guns don’t feel comfortable opening up or asking for help.

Even when access to mental health resources is provided some don’t feel able to get the help they require. Hell, even when they are getting the help they need, they still make up a portion of the veterans that commit suicide.

Suicide is preventable. We, as a country, need to come together to combat this urgent matter. The VA is doing good work, but they only reach about half of our veteran population. We need to combat the societal factors, housing, unemployment, legal issues, firearm access, that harm so many veterans.