The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that in 2020 there were 26 Veteran deaths by suicide out of 177 total suicides in South Dakota or about 15% of South Dakota suicides were amongst Veterans. In 2019, there were 23 Veteran deaths by suicide out of 166 total suicides or 14% of suicides were amongst SD Veterans.
Despite an increased focus and effort in regard to suicide in the military, the number of suicide deaths has continued to rise at an alarming rate. Due to improvements in medical technology, service members are able to survive serious injuries sustained in battle, but the emotional issues that often remain are not as easy to see.
Furthermore, the number of Veteran deaths by suicide in South Dakota has increased between 2019 and 2020 by 13%. However, suicide related deaths amongst Veterans in the nation have been decreasing since they peaked in 2018 when there were 6,796 Veteran deaths by suicide. There were 343 fewer Veteran suicide related deaths in 2020 than in 2019. 2020 had the lowest number of Veteran suicides since 2006. (Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)
Suicide is a complex issue and there are no easy answers as to why numbers have continued to increase, despite increased efforts by the field of suicide prevention. Identified factors related to the high suicide rate for military personnel and their families may include:
- Sustained exposure to combat
- Traumatic brain injury
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Traumatic loss
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Chronic pain
- Financial issues
- Divorce or relationship issues
Military personnel and their family members often use social media as a way to stay connected. Facebook has formed a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Blue Star Families to provide customized Facebook crisis services to military families at risk for depression and suicide. They are connected with military support and service organizations to offer customized information and response tools for suicide prevention services for veterans, active service members and their families. Veterans, active duty service members and military family members can get specific information about crisis services tailored to the military, which includes the Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans and their loved ones can call 988 and Press 1, chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net* or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
The goal of a Buddy Check is to reconnect with veterans who may need assistance but don’t know where to go or who to ask. These check-ins can be very simple. They can be made by making a personal visit, a phone call or sending a text, or a combination. The important part is to reach out to the veterans in your community to let them know you care and can provide whatever assistance they may need. If you don’t know how to start the conversation, you can start here to learn how to organize a Buddy Check and view sample scripts. See South Dakota’s very own, Secretary David Flute from the Department of Tribal Relations and Secretary Greg Whitlock from the Department of Veterans Affairs perform a Buddy Check!
- Every Member Counts Campaign Materials
- United States Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Facts about Veteran Suicide
- Bright Spot Event with VA Health Systems
- Veteran – Free Emergency Health Care
- 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report
- Project One Small Act
Each branch of the military has suicide prevention efforts in place and maintains a website that contains mental health and suicide prevention information and resources.