This story was originally published July 7, 2016, at 6:03 a.m. EST. It has since been updated.
In 2014, the latest year available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America. Veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population.
About 70 percent of veterans who took their own lives were not regular users of VA services.
For years, the department has estimated the veterans suicide toll nationwide at around 22 individuals a day, but veterans groups noted numerous gaps in how that estimate was constructed. Most notably, the numbers were based on information from only about 20 states and did not contain full military records from the Defense Department.
VA officials said in a statement that the information will allow them to "inform our suicide prevention programs and policies, especially for groups at elevated risk for suicide, including older and female veterans."
Researchers found that the risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent higher when compared to civilian adults. From 2001 to 2014, as the civilian suicide rate rose about 23.3 percent, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped more than 32 percent.
And roughly 65 percent of all veteran suicides in 2014 were for individuals 50 years or older, many of whom spent little or no time fighting in the most recent wars.
Providing support and assistance to suicidal veterans has proven difficult, in part because of the lack of data on the scope of the problem.
In recent years, VA has hired 5,300 mental health providers and support personnel and upgraded its Veterans Crisis Line in response to the problem. It has also elevated the profile of its suicide prevention office within the department and launched new partnerships with community health providers to offer counseling to veterans.
Officials hope to use the data to further expand those offerings, targeting specific regions and populations within the veterans community to more effectively deliver care.
Veterans groups hailed the new research as a critical step ahead in addressing the problem.
"Of course, this is still 20 [deaths] too many," said Joe Chenelly, executive director at AMVETS. "But we are grateful for the deeper, more accurate data analysis. Much still needs to be done, and this gives us a better idea where to focus."
Full year-by-year and demographic breakdowns of the data are expected to be released by the department by the end of July.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at email@example.com
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.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.