Salute to Spouses Blog

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Suicide after retirement – a stark reality

If your recently retired service member makes it past the five year mark, he has made it past the years he will most likely commit suicide.

This was a jarring line our blogger included in her entry this week. She recalled it as something another well-meaning spouse told her the day of her husband’s retirement ceremony.

Shocking. Terrifying. Heartbreaking. True.

 Suicide rates in the Army peaked in 2012 and were more than twice the rate of the civilian population. Since then, that service is experiencing nearly 120 suicides per year, the most of any of the armed services. Experts, reports the Washington Post and a number of other news organizations, have found that the bulk of suicides are committed by soldiers who have never deployed to a war zone.

Now, veteran suicide rates have skyrocketed and continue to rise. And unfortunately, my fellow blogger’s well-meaning friend was wrong about the 5-year-mark. If only it was that easy. If only we had to be vigilant for five years and then live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Veterans Administration reported this year that approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died by suicide were age 50 and older.  The VA examined 55 million service records from 1979 to 2014 to compile data to be used to build suicide prevention program.

Other conclusions:

  • Findings show there is variability across the nation in the rates and numbers of deaths by suicide among Veterans. Overall, the Veteran rates mirror those of the general population in the geographic region, with the highest rates in Western states. While we see higher rates of suicide in some states with smaller populations, most Veteran suicides are still in the heaviest populated areas.
  • After adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adults. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 19 percent higher among male Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult men. After adjusting for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female Veterans when compared to U.S. non-Veteran adult women.

What does this mean for spouses? Vigilance never ends. Not after one year. Not after five years. Recent changes to federal laws also mean veterans who were barred from owning a firearm due to mental health reasons now must have a judicial finding of incompetency to be barred from owning a gun. That means more guns in the hands of people doctors have already said should not own them.

For military spouses who have a service member living on the brink, it means we again are on our own to protect and care for our struggling service member.

Start by briefing yourself on the VA’s suicide prevention campaign, visit for information and support.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255.



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