Federal records on veteran suicide rates are significantly undercounting the actual number of deaths, according to a study’s interim report.
Operation Deep Dive estimated the suicide rate was 37% greater than that reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a press release from the suicide prevention group America’s Warriors Partnership (AWP).
When accounting for deaths that are correlated with self-harming behaviors, the study found the number of deaths rose to more than double the number recorded by federal officials.
The study was done in conjunction with the University of Alabama and Duke University.
Researchers arrived at that percentage by gathering death records from eight states and verified military service with the Department of Defense for people who were aged 18 to 64 between 2014 and 2018.
“Approximately 24 [former service members] between the ages of 18 and 64 die each day by suicide (as determined by coroner or medical examiner) instead of the 17 veterans per day reported by the VA,” the release stated.
The study also found that the VA had not been accounting for “self-injury mortality” (SIM), which it said are accidents or undetermined deaths that are closely aligned with self-harm/suicidal behavior, such as overdose deaths.
The rate of SIM deaths is at least 20 per day, according to the study.
If added together with recorded suicides, the study said that would increase the number of veteran deaths per day to 44 — or 2.4 times higher than the official federal count.
“If we are going to make progress toward preventing former service member suicide, we need better data,” Jim Lorraine, president and CEO of AWP, said in the release. “Inaccurate data leads to a misallocation of very valuable resources. Operation Deep Dive is designed to address this.”
States that participated in the study were Alabama, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon.