Landmark Study Finds that Former Service Members Take Their Lives at a Rate 2.4 Times Higher than Official VA Reports

America’s Warrior Partnership’s new study reveals at least 44 former service members take their own life each day by suicide or overdose

AUGUSTA, Ga., Sept. 17, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Today, America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP) released an interim summary report from the multi-year study Operation Deep Dive (OpDD). The report was created to develop a profile of former service members (FSM) most at risk for suicide, as well as inform the development of impactful suicide prevention strategies at the local, state and national levels. Researchers gathered state-provided death records and coordinated with the Department of Defense (DoD) to corroborate military affiliation and identify commonalities of the person, military service, and cause of death.

The research uncovered disparities between the state and federal data, finding that, across the eight states that participated in the study, the actual suicide rate was much higher, at 1.37 times the rate officially reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Approximately 24 FSMs between the ages of 18 and 64 die each day by suicide (as determined by coroner or medical examiner) instead of the 17 veterans per day reported by the VA.

Additionally, Operation Deep Dive found that the VA has not been accounting for Self-Injury Mortality (SIM), which are attributed predominately to overdose deaths. Separate of suicide, the rate of SIM among former service members is at least 20 per day. SIM is defined by accidents or undetermined deaths that are closely aligned with self-harm/suicidal behavior.

When suicide and SIM are combined, this brings the true rate of deaths among former servicemembers to at least 44 per day, or 2.4 times the rate the VA reports. The difference in the data is likely due to undercounting of FSM’s deaths and the greater specificity of the decedent’s demographics, military experience, and death details available to OpDD.

“If we are going to make progress toward preventing former service member suicide, we need better data,” said Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of AWP. “Inaccurate data leads to a misallocation of very valuable resources. Operation Deep Dive is designed to address this. The study results can help fix issues surrounding the one-size-fits-all approach, instead enabling a holistic solution that begins at the community level and addresses concerns around housing, employment, financial security, relationships, purpose, physical health, and mental well-being.” 

Other key findings of OpDD include:

  • FSMs deaths were miscounted at a combined error rate of 25%, including 18% of FSMs not being recognized as FSMs.
  • Every year served in the military equates to a 2% reduction in the probability of a FSM taking their own life.
  • Those who served in the military less than 3 years had the greatest risk of suicide/SIM.
  • Living with a partner decreased the odds of suicide by nearly 40%.
  • Receiving a demotion during military service increases the odds of dying by suicide/SIM by 56%.
  • Coast Guard FSMs were most likely to die from suicide, followed by Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and then Air Force FSMs respectively.

“We started Operation Deep Dive to end veteran’s suicide by using data to develop an effective and targeted veteran suicide prevention strategy,” said Cheree Tham, Chief of Programs and Initiatives at AWP. “By merging identified state death records with military service data and incorporating other individualized sources such as VA health care and benefits numbers, we can develop better tools and methods to prevent these heartbreaking incidents that shatter lives and communities.”

America’s Warrior Partnership contracted with the University of Alabama and partnered with Duke University to gather data from eight states: Alabama, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and Oregon. This was measured against data available through the Department of Defense. Moving forward, Operation Deep Dive’s research partner is Duke University.

The purpose of the study was to inform community suicide prevention programs that focus on veterans to determine who has the highest probability of taking their life by suicide or overdose.

The study was funded by Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

Former Service Member – Former Service Member encompasses everyone who served in the Active, National Guard, or Reserve forces but may not be eligible for US Department of Veterans Affairs services.

The interim summary report from Operation Deep Dive can be read in its entirety here: https://www.americaswarriorpartnership.org/deep-dive

About America’s Warrior Partnership 

America’s Warrior Partnership is committed to partnering with communities to prevent veteran suicide. We fill the gaps between veteran service organizations by helping nonprofits connect with veterans, their families, and caregivers. Our programs bolster nonprofit efficacy, improving their results, and empowering their initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to increase the quality of veterans’ lives, thus helping to end veteran suicide. https://www.americaswarriorpartnership.org 

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SOURCE America’s Warrior Partnership

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