A few months ago, the federal government released its report on 2017 veteran suicides. Shortly afterwards, Democratic presidential candidates released their policy proposals on curbing veteran suicide rates and journalists wrote articles on some of the report’s most shocking findings, such as the daily veteran suicide rate of 17 and the 6 percent increase in veteran suicides since 2005. But, journalists, candidates, and others who opined on the report missed an important piece of information tucked inside the report.
In 2017, nearly 70 percent of veteran suicide deaths were due to firearms. The use of firearms in veteran suicides is exceptionally high when compared to civilian rates. That same year, less than half of civilian suicides involved a firearm. And, while the U.S. civilian suicide rate is at its highest level in decades, the report showed that the veteran suicide rate is nearly double the civilian suicide rate.
Some experts have tried to diagnose the high veteran suicide rate, but nearly all of them have missed the firearm connection. What explains the 20 percent difference in firearm-related suicides between veterans and civilians? Many government reports haven’t been able to answer this. But an answer to the question may point us to the root causes behind a majority of veteran suicides.
Thankfully, our nation has conservative leaders in Washington who are taking charge on this issue and are finding answers to the questions that surround it. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, is one of them.
“The loss of even one veteran’s life is unacceptable, and preventing veteran suicide remains a top priority,” said Senator Isakson. He has proposed legislation that would provide funding for research into the pattern of firearm use in veteran suicides. His bill comes after the House of Representatives funded research into the issue. His proposal, like the House’s, is only to spur research and gather data on this issue. It is not a gun control bill.
“I’m tired of seeing Congress respond with partisan politics instead of real solutions,” Sen. Isakson said. Veterans, their families, and their communities feel the same way. They don’t want bickering. They want to see an end to this problem. But without evidence-based research and data, lawmakers can’t take much action on the issue.
In order to curb the high veteran suicide rate, we must find out what is driving an overwhelming majority of veteran suicides. If researchers can find the causes of veteran suicide deaths by firearm, Congress and community stakeholders can take meaningful action.
But first, Congress must join conservative leaders, such as Senator Isakson, in funding necessary, long-term research into this important matter. The sooner it does, the sooner we can start tackling the veteran suicide epidemic and help provide relief to many of our veterans.
Senators representing states with significant veteran populations, such as Cory Gardner, Martha McSally, Lisa Murkowski, among others, are in a unique position to help put an end to this problem. Afterall, Republicans have long been the party that champions veterans. We can get it done.
Last week, President Trump said, “We must strive to build communities that truly serve, support, and protect our veterans from the very first moment they return to civilian life.” Currently, veterans are struggling to transition back into society—but with comprehensive research, leaders in Washington can help our veterans make the shift from military life to civilian life. And, in the process, save lives.
W. Jesse Grady has worked with the RNC, Trump Campaign, Texas GOP, and the NC GOP. He now lives in Baltimore and studies law at the University of Maryland. He advocates for good governance and more effective federal policy.