Veteran suicide figures ‘rely on guesswork’

MP Stephen Morgan presses government to record the nature of the deaths at inquests

The government is failing forces personnel by relying on “guesswork” to assess the scale of veteran suicide, an MP has said.

Meanwhile, ministers are “peddling problematic and compromised” ideas about the numbers of veterans affected, according to Stephen Morgan.

Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South, raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. Along with armed forces charities, he is pressing for veteran suicides to be recorded by coroners as they are in other countries so that there is some reliable data on the subject.

It follows a Westminster Hall debate on April 3 in which he challenged veterans minister Tobias Ellwood on the lack of data.

All Call Signs, Combat Stress, the health minister, the former head of the armed forces, the former commander in Afghanistan and many more have all called for the government to start recording veteran suicide,” Morgan said after the debate.

“The minister himself conceded its importance, what he did not do is commit to a plan to implement these changes.

“What we need to see is solid, indisputable data rather than assumptions drawn from guesswork.

“With the support of veterans’ charities and experts from across the sector, I have called on the minister to stop peddling the problematic and compromised idea that suicide is lower amongst the veteran population.”

And in a subsequent letter to the minister the MP again hit out at claims suicide among veterans is less of a problem than in the wider community.

The letter stated: “The issue that has evoked the most concern is the use of the statistic that suicide is less common in the veteran community than in the civilian population in the UK. Canadian veterans under 25 are 242 per cent more likely to kill themselves than non-veterans of the same age, and the risk of suicide among male veterans of all ages is 36 per cent higher than in men who had never served in the Canadian military.

“In the USA, veterans make up more than 14 per cent of all suicides, although they account for only 8 per cent of the total population. In Australia, veteran suicide is 18 per cent higher than in the civilian population.

“The notion that the UK defies all these other countries’ normalities and is an anomaly is both wrong and damaging. We do not have the data to make these assertions and organisations such as All Call Signs have requested that this viewpoint is no longer used until the data is available to fact check it.”

In his reply, Ellwood agreed the government needed better data on veteran suicides.

He said causes of death among people who served between 2001 and 2014 would compare suicide rates with figures from the wider community. But he added that there were no plans to ask coroners to record veteran status in suicide conclusions for “practical and administrative reasons”.

Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. All Call Signs is a peer-to-peer chat app staffed by volunteers who have served in the armed forces offering support to any veteran who is struggling.

Image: Wikimedia Commons