By Jim Reed
In 2018, 6,424 veteran lives were lost to suicide. “The number of veterans and service members lost to suicide in just one year now surpasses the number of lives lost during the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to date," recent testimony to Congress on this topic by a researcher with the RAND Corporation observes. "The total number lost in the past decade totals more than the number of deaths incurred during the Vietnam War.”
Taking a closer look at this topic, NCSL has released a new LegisBrief to state policymakers, "Preventing Military Veteran Suicides: State Policy Options."
Veteran suicidal behavior is complex, according to a recent American Legion study. Multiple factors contribute including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, loss of a sense of purpose, loss of a sense of belonging and substance abuse.
Suicide is a preventable cause of death. States, local governments, the federal government and a wide variety of nonprofit organizations are implementing multiple strategies to reverse the trend of more suicides each year. NCSL’s resource, "Reversing the Rising Tide of Suicide," documents state and federal strategies to reduce suicides across all demographic groups.
The federal government handles most mental health needs for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the military services each have implemented approaches for suicide prevention. States, too, are acting to address and prevent veteran suicide.
Veteran suicide prevention legislation in state legislatures addresses multiple policy areas. These include enhancing treatment, early detection and training of state personnel who interact with veterans; collection of better data on veteran suicide and the efficacy of existing state programs; establishing one-stop websites and offices where veterans can access various services in a streamlined manner; and establishing commissions and/or task forces to conduct comprehensive studies of all services and benefits provided to veterans.
The NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force has been monitoring state legislative activity relating to veteran suicide prevention for many years and its members are active in creating state policy to find solutions. The next meeting of this task force will occur on Nov. 2, 2021, in Tampa, Fla., in conjunction with the 2021 NCSL Legislative Summit.
Jim Reed staffs the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force.