02/20/2013 01:00 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2013

Using a New Measuring Stick for Veterans' Suicides

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a new comprehensive report on Veterans' suicides that takes into account not only Veterans who have sought VA health care services as in the past, but also Veterans who have not received health care from the VA.  The new data comes from death certificates collected from the 50 states. While the overall percentage of suicides by Veterans has decreased, the total number of Veterans committing suicide has increased. 

The piece of information that you might not have expected from this report is that almost 70% of Veteran suicides are 50 years of age or older.  I don't know about you, but I expected the rates to be higher from these younger Vets returning from these two most recent and long-running wars. While it might be tempting to think that things aren't as bad as we thought, that would be premature.  Let's not take our eyes off the high incidence of suicide among OIF/OEF Vets, especially given the startling fact that there were more deaths in 2012 from suicide than from combat

That the majority of Veteran suicides are 50 years of age or older shows us what we're looking at as we move into the future with the waves of Veterans currently returning to us. The effects of war are ongoing. We need to consider not only the terrible cost and waste of losing these Veterans, but the years of suffering that includes their families and loved ones. In other words, ultimately, our whole society.

For me, it really brings into sharp focus the imperative to get these younger vets the counseling they need to transition back to us as healthy, contributing citizens.  It will take more than the VA to do this. It takes employers, from major corporations down to small main street businesses, to provide employment for these returning Vets.  It requires that we continue to expand and improve the delivery of the benefits, medical and educational, that these Vets have earned.  And it puts on each of us the obligation to be aware of what they have experienced for us, and to thank them in tangible ways.  Like what?  Like volunteering and supporting organizations that serve vets like the National Veterans Foundation,   or supporting community-based non-profits that serve vets. Like making sure Vets and their families know about the NVF's crisis hotline (888.777.4443) where Vets handle crisis calls, help other Veterans access their benefits, and connect them to local resources.

We can't afford to put off preparing for what we know is coming.  To ask our veterans to wait for the help they need right now is irresponsible.