The number of young veterans who know someone who has died by suicide or considered harming themselves both increased significantly in recent years according to just-released annual membership survey of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, another sign of the mental health struggles facing the military community.
Of the more than 1,700 veterans who participated in the questionnaire, more than two-thirds said they know at least one post-9/11 veteran who has attempted suicide. Nearly as many — 62 percent — said that they have lost a fellow young veteran to suicide.
Six years ago, only about 40 percent of members surveyed said they knew of a fellow veteran’s suicide.
In that time, the amount of federal resources dedicated to veterans suicide has increased significantly, but the estimated number of veterans and service members who die by suicide has remained about 20 a day.
Group officials said the increasing effect on the veterans community should serve as a “call to action” for the nation.
“While post-9/11 veterans are succeeding in their education and careers, our survey reveals other troubling statistics,” the report states. “Many of our members are facing significant physical and mental health challenges.”
While the IAVA survey does not represent a full accounting of the challenges facing the Iraq and Afghanistan war generations, the questionnaire does offer an annual snapshot of one of the largest concentrations of young veterans advocates in the country today.
About 44 percent of survey participants said they have had suicidal thoughts since they joined the military, up from less than one-third in 2014. Nearly half of the women who answered said they thought about self-harm.
The group’s members did report strong knowledge of VA resources for emergency help. Roughly 96 percent said they were aware of the Veterans Crisis Line, and 26 percent said they have reached out to the call center for help.
The survey shows high rates of usage of other VA services and benefits, as well. About 59 percent rated their experiences with VA health care as positive, up 15 percent from three years ago. More than 75 percent said they have used their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, either for their own education or that of a family member.
The group also includes a large number of veterans with service-connected injuries — 66 percent of all vets surveyed said they suffer from chronic pain because of those issues — and 88 percent of those who deployed overseas said they had some level of burn pit exposure, hinting at future health problems.
Despite those obstacles, the number of members who are unemployed dipped in the recent years — reflecting national veterans unemployment trends — and more than half of members said they volunteer in their communities on a regular basis.
The full survey results are available on the IAVA website.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.