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5,000 small U.S. flags representing suicides of active members of the military and veterans line the National Mall on Oct. 3, 2018. (AP) 5,000 small U.S. flags representing suicides of active members of the military and veterans line the National Mall on Oct. 3, 2018. (AP)

5,000 small U.S. flags representing suicides of active members of the military and veterans line the National Mall on Oct. 3, 2018. (AP)

By Garrett Spikes April 24, 2019
By Jack Tolman April 24, 2019

Do more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day?

Do 20 veterans die every day by suicide? Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., cited that figure in a recent press release that accompanied a veterans mental health and suicide prevention bill he introduced.

Saying that the goal of the bill is to "connect more veterans with the mental health care they need and earned," Manchin said in the release that "it is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day" and that "of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA."

The data needs to be put into context, but the statistic is largely on target.

The VA’s data

In 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office for Suicide Prevention published a report that found that "in 2014, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day. Six of the 20 were recent users of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services in 2013 or 2014."

The report said that the data "confirms that when compared to their non-veteran peers, most veterans are at an increased risk for suicide."

At the same time, the report cautioned that the overall number of daily suicides obscures key variations within age group and sex within the veteran population.

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For instance, veterans between 18 and 39, between 50 and 69, and 80 and older have seen increases in suicide rates, the report found. And suicide rates are higher for male veterans than female veterans.

The report found that suicide is likeliest among younger veterans of both sexes and among older male veterans. But since these groups account for a relatively small share of the total veteran population, the largest number of suicides occur among the much larger population of middle-aged veterans.

A 2018 update by the VA found that the average number of veteran suicides per day had remained "unchanged at 20."

We checked with Robert Bossarte, the director of Injury Control Research at West Virginia University who helped author the VA’s 2016 report. He told PolitiFact West Virginia that he considers the 20-a-day figure to be accurate.

Our Ruling

Manchin said, "It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day."

The most recent Department of Veterans Affairs data confirms that figure, though it’s worth adding some context -- that the overall figure obscures significant variability for different age groups and for men as opposed to women.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

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Mostly True
"It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day."
a press release
Monday, March 18, 2019

Our Sources

Joe Manchin, "Manchin Introduces Landmark Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Bill," March 18, 2019

VA Office of Suicide Prevention, "Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans (2001-2014)," Aug. 3, 2016

Department of Veterans Affairs, Press release on the National Suicide Data Report, June 18, 2018

Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran suicide data update, June 18, 2018

White House, "President Donald J. Trump Issues a National Call to Action to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Veteran Suicide," March 5, 2019

Washington Post Fact Checker, "The missing context behind the widely cited statistic that there are 22 veteran suicides a day," Feb. 4, 2015

Email Interview with Katey McCutcheon, press secretary for Joe Manchin, April 1, 2019

Email Interview with Robert Bossarte, director of Injury Control Research at West Virginia University, April 2, 2019

Do more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day?

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