A recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed suicides fell nationwide in 2020 for the second straight year, and fewer veterans died by suicide in 2020 than any year since 2006.
However, Montana’s suicide rate was “significantly higher” than the national average for veterans and the general population.
The 2022 Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report released Sept. 19 offers the most recent analyzes of veteran suicide from 2001 through 2020, the VA said. Officials said this report is unique in that it is the first to examine veteran suicide mortality data during the initial period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicides nationwide, the VA said, an average of 16.8 per day. In 2020, there were 343 fewer veteran suicides than in 2019, and the number of veteran suicides was lower than every previous year since 2006.
Montana recorded 53 veteran suicides in 2020 and 288 total suicides, according to the 43-page VA report. That’s 58.2 veteran suicides per 100,000 people, compared to 31.7 nationally, according to the Sept. 19 report.
Montana is part of the Western VA region, which includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The West Region reported a veteran suicide rate of 35.3, the VA said.
Montana as a whole had a suicide rate of 33.8, compared to the western region’s rate of 18.7 and the national rate of 17.3, the report said.
The report did not explain why the rate was higher in Montana, which state officials said ranked in the top five for suicide rates for all age groups nationwide. over the past 30 years. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services referred all questions about the study to VA Montana Health Care, which had no comment.
The report’s key findings include that in 2019 and 2020, veteran suicides decreased in consecutive years by 307 and 343 deaths – the largest decrease in the number and rate of suicides since 2001. From 2018 to 2020 , the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate among veterans fell by 9.7%.
Among female veterans, the age-adjusted suicide rate fell 14.1%, compared to 8.4% among non-veteran females, the VA reported. The age-adjusted suicide rate for female veterans in 2020 was the lowest since 2013, and the age-adjusted suicide rate for male veterans was the lowest since 2016.
Officials said the COVID-19 pandemic had no impact on veteran suicide mortality. The study found that suicide was the 13th leading cause of death among veterans in 2020 and the second leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45.
The VA also announced that it is awarding more than $52 million to 80 community organizations in 43 states, the District of Columbia and American Samoa for suicide prevention services for veterans and their families.
The money came from the staff sergeant. Suicide Prevention Grant Program Parker Gordon Fox, part of Cmdr. John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Enhancement Act, 2019.
This bill, enacted in 2020, was introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and is named after a Montana resident and former Navy SEAL who took his own life in 2018.
These efforts are part of the VA’s 10-year National Strategy for Veteran Suicide Prevention and the Biden-Harris administration’s plan to reduce military and veteran suicide, the VA said.
In Montana, the Billings-based Adaptive Performance Center will receive $750,000 and the Rocky Boys Veterans Center will receive $650,000.
Volunteers of America, Northern Rockies, which serves veterans in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, will receive $750,000.
“There aren’t enough descriptive words to cover our level of gratitude and excitement,” said Karen Pearson, executive director of the Adaptive Performance Center, when asked about the grant.
Pearson said Montana is in the top three states when it comes to veteran suicide.
Adaptive Performance is a non-profit fitness center that aims to reduce suicide rates and help build community. It combines mental health with physical fitness.
Mitch Crouse, COO of Adaptive Performance, said, “Work your body, work your mind, they go hand in hand.
The grant is intended to serve Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark counties.
Pearson and Crouse announced they would open in Helena on Central Avenue and hire 10 people.
Pearson said they applied for the grant and got letters of support from Republican Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale.
Officials at Box Elder’s Rocky Boys Veterans Center, now called the Great Plains Veterans Service Center, did not return a call seeking comment.