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VA claims veteran suicide rate is lowest since 2006, study shows more veterans have died than VA reported

The Department of Veterans Affairs said in its latest report that the suicide rate among veterans in 2020 was the lowest rate since 2006.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The suicide rate among veterans is the lowest it has been since 2006 according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A report from a nonprofit that works to end veteran suicides, though, said more veterans have died than the VA is reporting.

"I have had more friends commit suicide than die in combat," retired U.S. Marine Captain Shane Krebs said. 

Krebs enlisted in the military after Sept. 11, 2001. 

"It used to be at the beginning of the war that if you came out and even mentioned the words PTSD you'd get discharged from the military," he said.

He has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and said since he left the military, more of his friends have died by suicide than in war.

"We reached a point where if you're not discussing it, then you're doing yourself and the rest of your comrades and injustice," Krebs said.

According to the VA's latest Suicide Prevention Report, a little more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide in 2020. It said that was the lowest suicide rate among veterans since 2006. That's still close to 17 suicides per day in 2020.

"I would say that they're off. I don't know if the VA takes into account the accidental overdoses. I don't know if the VA takes into account veterans that are not in the VA system," Krebs said.

According to a study from America's Warrior Partnership, a nonprofit working to end veteran suicides, more veterans have died by suicide from 2014 to 2018 than the VA reported. The report said in eight states, including Florida, the number of suicides among veterans was 1.37 times more than the VA reported. 

The VA responded with the following statement: 

“The purpose of VA’s National Suicide Prevention report is to count every Veteran suicide so we can prevent every Veteran suicide. Ending Veteran suicide and saving lives is our top clinical priority at VA, and we take every step possible to make sure that our Veteran suicide data is accurate—because the first step to solving this problem is understanding it. Our methodology for creating this report is well-established and consistent, based on verified data from the CDC and DoD, and meets the quality and standards of a peer-reviewed publication. In the interest of full transparency, we release yearly reports detailing how we come to the conclusions in the Annual Suicide Prevention Report. That report from 2021 can be found here.

“The bottom line is this: One Veteran suicide is one too many, and VA will continue to accurately measure Veteran suicide so we can end Veteran suicide.”

Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s for Warriors, a nonprofit that provides service dogs for veterans like Krebs. Diamond said he too thinks something more needs to be done to help veterans.

"It's still much more likely that a veteran will take their life than someone who didn't serve and we need to get that to zero we need to make sure we're protecting our American heroes," Diamond said.

For Krebs, he said K9s For Warriors has helped him through some dark times.

"It completely changed my life. I went from, we'll call it a recluse, with horrible anger issues that went up and down like a roller coaster to somebody who's become more level headed, is outgoing," Krebs said.

K9s For Warriors is graduating its largest class of veterans this week since its inception in 2011. Sixteen veterans from across the country will graduate with 16 service dogs. 

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is 988.

    

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