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Combat boots on Capitol steps show the prevalence of military suicides


Every day, current or former members of the U.S. military die by suicide.

The exact numbers aren't known, but there are widely used estimates.

Twenty-two veterans take their own life every day, the Department of Veterans Affairs found. There was about one active duty suicide every day in 2012 as well, the Military Times said.

It's that number – 23 – that's driving Operation 23 to Zero, a Midwest-based effort to bring awareness to the prevalence of suicide among America's troops.

All this week, the group will place 23 pairs of combat boots on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol building, as a way to draw attention to the problem of military suicides – and highlight the loss of the lives we've lost.

It's a project from David Peters, and WCCO spoke to the veteran about his experience dealing with post-traumatic stress following his time in the Marine Corps.

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The plan is to have 23 new pairs of boots placed on the steps each morning this week. At the end, all 115 pairs will go to a local homeless or veterans charity.

More on military suicides

Since the VA report was published in 2013, additional studies have been done looking at military suicides. Here's some of what's been found.

  • The Washington Post provided some "missing context" for the 22 veterans a day figure. The researchers were fairly limited in what data they had, using a suicide rate determined by looking at 21 states' records and applying it to a broader population. They actually gave a range of 18-22 veteran suicides per day.
  • PBS' Frontline reported just a few days ago on a study by JAMA Psychiatry, which found most soldiers who die by suicide were never deployed. It also found suicide was the second-leading cause of death for military personnel, and the suicide rate for them is higher than the general U.S. population. In addition, "researchers found a higher risk of suicide among those who either left the military before their four years of service were up, or who received a less-than-honorable discharge."
  • Another recent study, this one by the Annals of Epidemiology, looked at suicide among the 1.3 million who were on active duty during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, finding veterans "exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the U.S. general population. However, deployment to the Iraq or Afghanistan war, by itself, was not associated with the excess suicide risk."

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