The Veteran’s Administration has released its annual report on veteran suicides, with 2020 counting for 6146 veteran deaths by suicide. This report is the first to also provide a breakdown of veteran suicide deaths by state going back yearly to 2001. Because many veteran services are provided on a state level or by private organizations that do not have a presence in all states, we wanted to look at veteran suicide risk by state as an indicator or what is and what is not working to help prevent the deaths of our nation’s military heroes.
State by State Veteran Suicide Comparisons
We did not do an exhaustive analysis of the VA data but simply made a few comparisons. For example, Pennsylvania and New York are Northeastern states located side by side. They have similar numbers of veterans living in their states but significantly different reported rates of veteran suicide.
New York vs Pennsylvania Veteran Suicide Rates
New York State, population 20,108,296, number of veterans residing 614,289, 2020 reported veteran suicides 143.
Pennsylvania, population 13,002,689, number of veterans residing 641,525, 2020 reported veteran suicides, 240.
These states have nearly identical resident veteran populations but Pennsylvania reports nearly twice as many veteran suicides as does New York. Is New York doing a better job, a better place for veterans to live? Is Pennsylvania doing a more competent job reporting veteran suicides than its neighbor to the North?
Illinois vs Indiana Veteran Suicide Rates
Two other side by side states are Illinois and Indiana. They have virtually identical reported veteran suicide numbers for 2020 but Illinois has twice as many people and about 50% more veterans living there than in Indiana.
Indiana, population 6,788,799, veterans in residence 335,248, reported veteran suicide for 2020 150.
Illinois population 12,786,580, veterans in residence 496,352, reported veteran suicides for 2020 151.
Again, is the difference that Illinois does a better job taking care of veterans or is a better place to live or that Indiana provides a more honest accounting of the number of veterans who take their own lives?
Accuracy of Veteran Suicide Numbers by State
A serious problem in dealing with veteran suicide is that most states do not provide accurate numbers of veteran suicides. According to NBC News, only eight states provide accurate counts of veterans suicides. These states are Alabama, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and Oregon. In all other states the suicide numbers do not represent the total number of suicides. If we choose two of the “accurate count” states for a comparison the numbers should be more meaningful.
Florida Versus Oregon Veteran Suicide Numbers
Florida is home to 1,342,337 veterans and reported 573 suicides by veterans in 2020. Oregon is home to 259,207 veterans and reported 128 suicides by veterans in 2020. Oregon has 19.3% of the Florida population and experienced 22.3% of the Florida number of suicides. In other words, Oregon has a 15% greater risk of veteran suicide per veteran population than Florida does. Is this significant?
Florida Versus Oregon Total Suicide Numbers
For total populations, Florida reported 3135 deaths by suicide in 2020 and Oregon reported 869 suicide deaths in 2020. Florida’s 2020 population was 21,538,187 and Oregon had a population of 3,959,256 in 2020. Florida has 5.4 times as many people and 3.6 times as many suicides. In other words, the rate of suicide in the general population is fifty percent higher in Oregon than it is in Florida. At the same time, the suicide rate for veterans is 0.15% higher in Oregon. Oregon ranks 13th for rate of suicide by population while Florida ranks 38th.
What Do the Oregon Versus Florida Veteran Suicide Numbers Mean?
The easy answer is that we do not really know. The more accurate answer is that this is an example of how important it is to get accurate, reliable, and meaningful data to work with in regard to rates of veteran suicide. We know a lot of things about veteran suicide such as depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury increase the likelihood of suicide attempts. We know that psychedelic medicines are coming down the pipeline that will help treat depression, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders and thus reduce the risk of suicide. We believe that social support programs are useful in preventing veteran suicide but need better data to know which ones should get more support and funding.