‘It is no secret that the leading cause of death among active duty troops deployed to the Middle East is not combat or accidents, or IEDs — it’s themselves. The Pentagon’s own statistics show that this is a crisis but it is being ignored.
In 2019, according to the Department of Defense, 17 service members were killed during hostile situations in Afghanistan. The number of soldiers who killed themselves was nearly 19 times that amount. The most recent numbers, coming from 2018, show that a total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year.
Not only are active duty soldiers tragically ending their own lives at an increasing rate, but once they finish their service, these numbers skyrocket. While the suicide rate for active duty members is certainly shocking, veterans kill themselves at a rate nearly 200 percent more.
The most recent data shows that a veteran kills himself or herself in the United States about every hour and 26 minutes. That is 6,100 veterans a year.
When we look at these numbers over the past ten years, the results are shocking: more veterans have killed themselves in the last decade than service members who died in Vietnam.
If we look at attempted suicides, that number skyrockets once more to 19,000 attempts, of which 6,100 result in ending their own lives.
One of these attempted suicides was Air Force veteran John Michael Watts, 58, who approached the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta around 10:45 a.m. in 2018 and within minutes, he was engulfed in flames that burned 90 percent of his body.
Watts set himself on fire in an attempted suicide to raise awareness to the problems within the VA. Veterans attempting suicide at VA clinics has since been on the rise.
“VA is working to prevent suicide among all veterans, whether they are enrolled in VA health care or not,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in September. “That’s why the department has adopted a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, using bundled strategies that cut across various sectors — faith communities, employers, schools and health care organizations, for example — to reach veterans where they live and thrive.”
Read more: Time to Bring the Troops Home: More Veterans Committed Suicide Last Decade Than Died in Vietnam