Veteran suicide rates rose in 2021: Report

The number of veterans who died by suicide increased in 2021, the first increase since 2018, according to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, published Nov. 16. 

The report found that 6,392 veterans died by suicide in 2021, 114 more than in 2020. Rates of suicide among the non-veteran population increased in 2021 as well, according to the report. 

Before 2021, the numbers of veterans dying by suicide declined from 6,718 in 2018 to 6,278 in 2020. 

“There is nothing more important to VA than preventing veteran suicide — nothing," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said in a Nov. 16 news release. "One veteran suicide will always be too many, and we at VA will use every tool to our disposal to prevent these tragedies and save veterans' lives." 

As part of its suicide prevention efforts, the VA has doubled the size of its crisis line staff and exceeded its goal of hiring 30,000 mental health professionals by the end of fiscal 2023, Government Executive reported Nov. 16. 

VA Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal, MD, told Government Executive the agency is continuing to hire as many mental health clinicians as possible. 

Aggressive hiring is only one part of the VA's suicide prevention efforts, Dr. Elnahal said. 

"A lot of veterans who die by suicide have never interacted with our mental health system, or a mental health provider overall, which is why we have to think more expansively than just access to healthcare on this very important mission," he told Government Executive. 

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