Just like combat, over the last 20 years, suicide is something all too familiar to the U.S. military. Suicide affects both the active-duty military, which includes active National Guard and reservists, and veterans, alike. It is very alarming that we lose more veterans to suicide each year than all the troops we lost in 20 years of combat operations combined. In spite of the efforts of the Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Pentagon to reduce suicides, the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Military suicides are still increasing.

On September 30, 2021, the Department of Defense released the Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Annual Suicide Report (ASR). According to the report, the suicide rate increased from 26.3 suicides per 100,000 active-duty troops in 2019, to 28.7 suicides per 100,000 in 2020. While this number is statistically small and not a huge change from 2019 to 2020, it is an all-time high since the Pentagon started keeping detailed records in 2008.

Every suicide is a significant tragedy, both for the families of the servicemembers and the military. Every suicide is a devastating loss of life. These numbers all reflect real people, real lives, and real struggles.

military suicides active-duty
DoD suicide data. (Graph created by SOFREP)


A Disturbing Trend

In 2008, the number of suicides per 100,000 troops was 16.9. The change to 28.7 suicides per 100,000 in 2020 equates to an approximately 70 percent increase over 13 years. This is a significant, disturbing trend that does not seem to be slowing down.

In 2012, the suicide rate peaked at 22.9 but then dropped in 2013 to 18.5 suicides per 100,000. However, since 2014 and 2015, when the rate was flat for two years, it has increased every year from 20.2 suicides to the current number of 28.7.

This is also concerning and seemingly inexplicable given that the operational tempo of the military has decreased in the last several years. A continuous increase in the suicide rate would be understandable if combat operations had increased. However, since the opposite is true, the increase in suicides highlights a heightened risk and continued lack of understanding.

According to the Pentagon, the “report presents 95% confidence intervals to account for random error associated with suicide rate estimation.” Further, the report specifies that “[at] times, a death cannot be classified as a suicide due to a lack of evidence of intent.” Additionally, the deaths of Reservists and National Guardsmen are reported by civilian medical authorities. This potentially means that the suicide rate could even be slightly higher.