Twenty U.S. military veterans commit suicide every single day, according to new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs released Thursday.
The majority of those who took their own lives did not fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, the new report says. A large majority of those who commit suicide, 65 percent, are at least 50 years old.
The new study dispels earlier VA estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide a day, but still underscores a troubling mental health crisis among service members despite department measures to address the issue.
More than 7,400 veterans killed themselves in 2014, the latest year of available data, accounting for 18 percent of all U.S. suicides, even though former service members make up less than 9 percent of the entire population, the Military Times reported.
"One veteran suicide is one too many," David Shulkin, the VA undersecretary for health, said in a statement. "We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero."
Shulkin said the new data will help the department improve its mental health care services.
Those who take advantage of VA benefits have significantly lower suicide rates than those who do not. Roughly 75 percent of veterans who killed themselves did not regularly use VA services. The VA has faced scrutiny in recent months, however, as a growing number of veterans face long wait times to get care while some have not received benefits because they were wrongly declared dead.
Female veterans are a major at-risk group. Their suicide rates rose more than 85 percent from 2001 to 2014, compared to roughly 40 percent for civilian women.
"These numbers are heartbreaking proof that we have a long way to go in order to end this troubling trend," Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement Friday.
"Sustained progress will require a comprehensive approach to help ensure our most at-risk veterans have not only the care they need but also a job, a purpose, and a system of support in place to help carry them through their struggles," he added.
The new report studied 55 million veteran records from across the U.S. during a 40-year period spanning from 1979 to 2014. The data from the study will be refined into a final report later this month.