Pa.’s veteran suicide rate exceeded state’s rate in 2019 | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Nearly 7 in 10 veterans took their own lives using a firearm in 2019, exceeding statewide numbers, according to U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs data

October 6, 2021 7:19 am

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Newly released data shows Pennsylvania’s veteran suicide rate mirroring the rest of the nation in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, but exceeding the state’s rate as a whole.

The data throws into stark relief an ongoing public health crisis among American service members.

Pennsylvania’s veteran suicide rate of 33 deaths per 100,000 veterans was slightly higher than the national rate of 31 deaths per veterans, according to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In Pennsylvania, a total of 270 veterans died by suicide in 2019, the federal data showed. Veterans aged 55-74 made up the largest cohort at 108 deaths, the federal data showed.

Veterans aged 35-54, at 76 deaths, made up the second-largest cohort the federal data showed. The deaths overall were overwhelmingly among male veterans.

(Source: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

The state’s 2019 veterans’ suicide rate was a slight increase over the 2018 rate of 31.3 deaths per 100,000 veterans, federal data showed, but below the national rate that year of 32 deaths per 100,000 veterans.

All told, the 2018 and 2019 veterans’ suicide rates in Pennsylvania were higher than the statewide rates of 19.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018, and 18.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, the federal data showed.

According to state Department of Health data, a total of 1,887 people died by intentional self-harm in 2019, which is how the agency defines suicide. The state’s data conflicts with the federal finding of 1,839 deaths by suicide that year.

From 2018 to 2019, the federal data shows, the national veteran suicide rate declined by 7.2 percent when accounting for changes in the population’s age and sex. The department called the drop “unprecedented across the last 20 years.”

But even with that nationwide decline, 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019 alone, according to the VA’s September report, representing an average of more than 17 deaths per day, according to reporting by Colorado Newsline, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

(Source:U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

Nearly 7 in 10 (69.3 percent) of the deaths among Pennsylvania veterans, or 187 of the 250, came by firearm. That’s higher than the statewide total of 51.3 percent, as well as the national rate of 50.8 percent, the federal data showed.

Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths nationwide are suicides, according to the anti-gun violence advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s an average of 64 deaths a day, the group’s research showed.

Those firearms deaths are more prevalent among veterans, who have been trained in their use. While veterans make up about 7 percent of the nation’s adult population, they account for about 18 percent of all gun suicide deaths, according to research by Brady, the anti-gun violence organization.

“Some communities are uniquely at risk for suicide,” the organization noted in an analysis posted to its website. “As a group, service members and veterans are uniquely at risk for suicide partly because they are more likely than their civilian counterparts to have access to firearms, and they have the knowledge and training in how to use them. Nearly half of all veterans own at least one firearm.”

If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

The VA has prioritized firearms safety as it tries to curb gun suicides among service members, according to the military newspaper Stars & Stripes.

“What you can do in suicide prevention is yes, explore the risks, preventative factors, explore policy and interventions, but as we’re exploring the ‘whys’ of suicide, don’t forget the ‘how,'” Matthew Miller, the executive director of the VA’s suicide prevention program, said during testimony before a U.S. House panel last month, Stars & Stripes reported. “When the ‘how’ is 70 [percent] of the time explained by one thing — a firearm — that suggests it’s a very important area to focus on.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

What’s the sound of one party talking? Neither the lack of a key witness nor an audience kept the GOP-controlled Senate State Government Committee from teeing off on the Wolf administration over — you guessed it — the 2020 election during a meeting on Tuesday, Marley Parish reports.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced 48 criminal charges on Tuesday against a Dallas-based company that is building a controversial 350-mile pipeline across the commonwealth to transport natural gas. Stephen Caruso has the details.

A coalition of good government advocates and Pennsylvania voters have asked to join the state’s top prosecutor’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans that seeks to block subpoenas issued as part of an election investigation, Marley Parish also reports.

What does Pennsylvania’s electric vehicle future look like? Marley Parish takes stock of the legislative proposals currently making the rounds, and talks to one company that wants to be in the vanguard.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 4,019 new cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. That brings the statewide total of cases to more than 1.45 million since the start of the pandemic, I report.

On our Commentary Page, we’re bringing you a special report this morning: ‘Making America Live Up to its Promise‘: a trio of op-Eds examining the nation’s history of racism and colonialism, and its modern-day repercussions.

First, a University of Alabama scholar explains how the brutal trade in enslaved people in America has been mostly whitewashed out of U.S. history.

Thanks to a history of racist U.S. Supreme Court decisions, 4 million people living in five U.S. territories do not have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution, a Suffolk University expert writes.

And Philadelphia Tribune columnist Michael Coard writes that the time for asking for reparations for chattel slavery is over. It’s now time to take the case for reparations to court.

Abortion rights supporters rally at the Pa. State Capitol on Tuesday, 5/21/19, as part of a national day of action (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)


The Inquirer looks at the importance of abortion rights as an election issue for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell is looking to have the details of his child custody case sealed, the Tribune-Review reports.

Resettlement agencies in Lancaster County are waiting for the arrival of Afghan refugeesLancasterOnline reports.

New research finds that central Pennsylvania has worse air quality than Pittsburgh, the York Daily Record reports.

Veterans helped a mom of four from the Lehigh Valley escape from Afghanistan after the U.S. government ‘abandoned’ her, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has saidThe Morning Call has the story.

City & State Pa. runs down the GOP pack of 2022 gubernatorial hopefuls.

Luzerne County Council and the county district attorney have appealed an injunction denial issued in an election dispute case, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

The ‘scrappy’ nature of Philly’s politics will be key to the defense in the corruption trials of union boss John Dougherty and City Councilmember Bobby HenonWHYY-FM reports.

Workers in all Kellogg’s cereal plants — including one in Lancaster County — will walk off the job, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).

A judge has temporarily halted Warren County’s optional school mask policyGoErie reports.

U.S. Senate Democrats are weighing ‘nuking’ the filibuster to move the debt limit bill, Roll Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The House come sin at 11 a.m. today.
8:30 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Education Committee, Subcommittee on special education
9 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Finance Committee
9 a.m, G50 Irvis: House Professional Licensure Committee
9:30 a.m., B31: House Consumer Affairs Committee
9:30 a.m., 60 East Wing: House Game & Fisheries/Tourism & Recreational Development committees
10 a.m., 523 Irvis: House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
 8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Meghan Schroeder
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Brandon Markosek
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Joe Kerwin
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Jessica Benham
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Danilo Burgos
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out an only mildly offensive $5,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf holds a 10 a.m. newser at Harrisburg’s Hamilton Health Center to urge people to get vaccinated.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to reader Shanna Danielson, of Cumberland County, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from The War on Drugs. It’s ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
The Guardian runs down the top 20 rising talents in the Premier League, from Arsenal’s Ruell Walters to Aston Villa’s Ajani Burchill.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.