Mike gave us an overview of the work he is doing to provide soldiers with a “touch of home” through a simple game of catch wherever they find themselves on today’s battlegrounds. Learn more at www.operationglove.org check out their Facebook page.

The genesis of Operation: Glove lies in today’s increasingly high rates of suicide among the United States military.
  • 23 United States veterans per day take their own life. And,
  • Since 2010, the leading cause of death among active duty US military is suicide.
Analyzing the data on military suicides is more complex than you might expect. The military has good records on active duty soldiers and saw the rising rates that started with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The VA, however, historically has tracked only veterans that have contacted the VA and were brought into its system. In 2010 the VA made major changes in its record keeping forming alliances with state governments to obtain records on nearly all veterans who commit suicide. That will help to improve its information going forward.

But collecting a lot of data doesn’t lead to simple answers because suicides are strongly age and sex dependent and the military population is heavily skewed from the civilian one, even among veterans. While the increase in active duty military suicides can be linked closely with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, most veterans who commit suicide are over the age of 50. And, at the same time, civilian suicide rates have also increased, presumably due to the Great Recession that began in Dec 2007.

The numbers take a long time to collect and analyze. USA Today published a story in 2014 saying that veterans ages 18-24 and enrolled in the VA’s health program killed themselves at a rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2009 and nearly 80 per 100,000 in 2011, the most recent data then available. It compared that to a rate of about 20 per 100,000 for non-veterans of the same age according to data from the CDC during 2009 and 2010, again the most recent available.

But . . . veterans who have checked into VA Hospitals aren’t very much like the general population even after you have corrected for age. And most veterans who commit suicide are over the age of 50 and have retired from the military long before. The effects of PTSD often appear many years, even decades, down the road from the events that caused them.

So, it is going to be a long time before we truly know the human cost of our recent wars.