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Reevaluating How America Solves the High Suicide Rates in Veterans

By October 14, 2023 No Comments

Experts and policymakers recognize the need to identify effective solutions for reducing suicides among veterans. Research has demonstrated that suicides are more common in veterans compared to the general population. Veterans make up just 7.6% of the U.S. population, but almost 14% of suicides involve a veteran. 

Given the high prevalence of veteran suicides, lawmakers and veterans advocates have devised new solutions to tackle this problem. These are discussed in more detail below.

Prevalence of Veteran Suicides

The high prevalence of veteran suicides makes prevention efforts imperative. Not only are veteran suicides more common than suicides in the general population, but some veterans are more likely to be affected than others. For instance, the overall veteran suicide rate is 1.5 times the rate in the general population, but female veterans are 2.1 times more likely to die by suicide compared to the rest of the population. 

Veteran suicide rates can also vary by race and ethnicity. American Indian/Alaskan Native veterans are 1.51 times more likely than non-Hispanic, White veterans are to die by suicide. Black and Hispanic veterans are at a slightly lower risk of death by suicide. 

In 2020, 6,146 veterans died by suicide, representing a slight increase from the 6,001 veteran suicide deaths in 2001. Overall, in 2020, there were 31.7 suicide deaths per 100,000 veterans, compared to 16.1 per 100,000 among non-veteran adults. In 2001, the veteran suicide rate was 23.3 per 100,000. This demonstrates that veteran suicide rates are increasing, and the need for solutions is imminent. 

New Policy 

With increases in veteran suicide rates, policymakers are devising new solutions. One of the most recent is the COMPACT Act, which allows veterans to receive emergency suicide care in a VA or non-VA health center. Veterans are not required to be registered for VA insurance to receive emergency care during a suicidal crisis, and they will not be charged for the treatment, even if they go to a facility not affiliated with the VA.  

One of the primary benefits of the COMPACT Act, in addition to the fact that it does not charge veterans for receiving care, is that it also allows for follow-up treatment. After a veteran is treated for a suicidal crisis, they can receive 30 days of inpatient care and 90 days of outpatient care, which can include medication and mental health services. The length of outpatient care can be extended, if clinically needed.

Beyond direct services, the Act provides free emergency transportation, such as an ambulance to the hospital, for veterans in need of suicide care. Veterans will also be referred to other services for which they are eligible, including social work. The bottom line is that when a veteran receives treatment for a suicidal episode, they will not be billed for services. This reduces the financial burden of seeking care, so veterans experience fewer barriers to accessing life-saving treatment. 


The eligibility requirements to receive free suicide care under the COMPACT Act allow many veterans to access services they might otherwise not be able to afford. To be covered under this act, all care received must be related to the suicidal crisis. 

Otherwise, to be eligible, a veteran must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Discharge from active duty after at least 24 months of active service, for a reason other than dishonorable discharge
  • Being a victim of sexual assault, battery, or harassment while serving 
  • Serving more than 100 days under a combat exclusion or as part of a contingency operation, whether involvement was direct or by operating an unmanned aerial vehicle from an outside location

It’s important to note that eligibility requirements do not state that a veteran has to be enrolled in VA healthcare. This means that the 9 million veterans not currently enrolled in benefits now have access to life-saving mental health care. 

The Implications of the New Law

It is too soon to evaluate the impact of the COMPACT Act, as it is a new law, but based upon existing research, the law is expected to fill a gap in care.  A study published in a November 2020 publication of the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that 7.3% of veterans reported current suicidal ideation, but only 36.1% of these veterans were receiving mental health treatment. Among those not receiving treatment, stigma was a barrier to seeking care. Veterans not engaged in treatment worried that reaching out for help would damage their reputation or cause them to be seen as weak. 

While the COMPACT Act does not directly reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment, it does increase access to care. Veterans who may not be financially able to seek treatment will no longer worry about covering the cost of care. Furthermore, large scale support for suicide treatment can reduce reluctance to seek help, as veterans may perceive less stigma when policy makers take action to promote treatment utilization. 

That being said, efforts to directly reduce stigma and fears of negative judgment are also warranted. Veterans who feel that they will be seen as weak for reaching out may forego lifesaving treatment, leading to devastating outcomes. Continued education and stigma reduction efforts are imperative, especially for veteran populations who are particularly prone to perceiving stigma as a barrier to care. 

Southern California Outpatient Mental Health Treatment for Veterans

Mission Harbor Behavioral Health offers services for veterans seeking outpatient care following a suicidal crisis. We have office locations in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we can treat mental health conditions and co-occurring substance use disorders. We offer various treatment tracks, and we can provide both intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization services, depending on the level of need. We’re happy to serve veterans even if they aren’t seeking care following a suicidal crisis, and we’re in-network with TRICARE Insurance


Contact us today to learn more about our service offerings. 

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin combines his years of experience in behavioral health with a mission to innovate treatment methods and processes for mental health and substance abuse. Sam not only brings to the table his successful career owning and managing successful treatment facilities around the country but his dedication to creating an environment for healing. Sam obtained his Masters in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.