LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Statistics from a 2020 data sheet from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) shows that suicides among Michigan veterans were more than double for the age group of 55-74 than that of any other age group.
In 2020, there were 86 suicides among Michigan veterans ages 55-74. The next highest number was 40 suicides of veterans ages 35-54; 30 suicides of veterans 75 and older; and 17 suicides of veterans ages 18-34.
These numbers line up with national numbers as well as numbers from the Midwestern region which also shows suicides higher in the 55 to 74 age group.
An article that appeared on the North Dakota Veterans Affairs website reports that some veterans’ advocates say that it’s easier for older veterans to feel America has forgotten their sacrifices.
Tom Berger, veterans advocate and life member of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), had said in the article, “You know, ‘We’re just old guys, and we’re going to die, so why pay much attention to them?’…That’s kind of the feeling that some of our members have.”
Robert Bossarte, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Dept. of Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry at West Virginia University, is a researcher who appears on the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs website. He discussed the Veterans Crisis Line and confirmed, “The greatest proportion of callers is in fact middle-aged adults.”
The article goes on to say that “Many aging veterans face the same issues as the general population in growing older, such as declining health and mobility, which can fuel feelings of loneliness and isolation. Older people also tend to suffer from more chronic pain, especially if they have endured a war wound.”
They say that mental health – including PTSD – is also a key factor. Bossarte said, “We know that psychiatric disorders play a very large role.”
As part of the work that the VA does, this suicide data is collected to “understand suicide risk factors, develop evidence-based prevention programs, and prevent veteran suicide through a public health approach.”
The information reflects that while the veteran suicide rate in Michigan is not significantly different from the national veteran suicide rate, we are significantly higher than the national general population suicide rate.
The veteran suicide rate in Michigan is 31.1% overall vs. the regular Michigan suicide rate of 17.8% and the national suicide rate of 17.3%.
To assist in getting help to the veterans, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency announced two collaborative initiatives this week in order to combat veteran suicides in Michigan. An investment of $3.4 million includes $1.2 million from the Gov. Whitmer’s administration and a $750K grant from the VA per year for up to three years.
This funding will be used to support direct outreach to veterans and address factors that can lead to suicide such as employment, housing, health care and mental issues.
Because September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month, a spotlight is being shone on these issues. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that the September awareness program is a time they use to shift public perception on the issue, spread hope and share vital information to people affected by suicide while ensuring that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.
The Veterans Crisis Line is easily accessible to veterans and their loved ones by calling 988 and Press 1. They can also chat online at 988lifeline.org or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals is also available.