Suicide Ideation – What Every Veteran Needs to Know 

Suicide Ideation

Continuing with our series of posts dedicated to Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s talk about an extremely sensitive subject for thousands of Veterans and their loved ones: Suicide. 

What we’ll discuss here:

  • What is suicidal ideation and what are its warning signs?
  • How does the VA address suicide prevention among Veterans?
  • VA rates for suicidal ideation
  • Which VA benefits can a survivor be entitled to after a Veteran’s suicide?

Understanding Suicide Ideation

According to Stop Soldier Suicide, Veterans are at 72% higher risk of suicide than those who never served. In 2015 Journal of Veterans Studies published research that claimed that female Veterans are likely to experience higher rates of mental health disorders and are about 2.5 times as likely to commit suicide as their civilian counterparts.

The situation when a person starts to think of suicide, or even plan it, gets preoccupied with thoughts of death, or intentionally puts themselves in a potentially life-threatening situation is called suicide ideation.

One of the biggest problems with suicide ideation among Veterans is that the warning signs may appear months or even years after the traumatic experience, making it hard for healthcare professionals, family and friends, and even the Veterans themselves to identify the problem and address it.

Experts from the National Center for PTSD claim that Veterans with PTSD and depression are more at risk of committing suicide. However, suicide ideation may occur if a Veteran has never been diagnosed with any mental health disorder before.

Here are some of the common warning signs that someone may be considering suicide:

  • Violation of sleep. A person may be sleepy all the time or vice versa and refuse to sleep at all
  • Loss of interest in surrounding events and people 
  • Distancing from friends and family or even people in general
  • Loss of interest in studies, work, and hobbies that were once exciting for the person
  • Expressing feelings of guilt, shame, or failure
  • Acting violently or intentionally getting into dangerous situations
  • Possible preparations for death (writing a will, giving away possessions)
  • Showing interest in poisons and weapons, searching the web for various scenarios of death and suicide

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who shows some of these symptoms, the VA provides a whole network of resources that help to prevent suicide as well as provide emergency mental health care.

Visit the Make the Connection website, where you can read and watch inspiring stories of Veterans and their families who overcame depression and suicidal ideation.

Check out the VA Suicide Prevention Resource. Here, you can: 

  • Learn how to talk to a Veteran in crisis
  • Find specific resources dedicated to employment, housing, financial assistance, and other tools that can help you overcome the challenges that may contribute to depression and suicidal ideation
  • Connect with other Veterans and their families for mutual support

In case you or your loved one are in an urgent crisis that needs immediate qualified assistance contact the Veterans Crisis Line:

If you are based overseas, the Veterans Crisis Line is available:

In case you are in Brazil, Central America, the Middle East, or any other place not mentioned in this list, you can use the Confidential Online Chat

Those who still prefer a phone call can just use the chat to leave their number. The Crisis Line responder will contact you as soon as possible and at no charge. 

Remember that in case of a mental health crisis, you can always contact the nearest VA medical center. In this case, it does not matter whether you are enrolled in the VA Healthcare Program or what your discharge status is.

VA Benefits and Emergency Mental Health Care

As we already mentioned, you can contact any VA medical center in case of mental health crisis, even if you are not enrolled in VA Healthcare. Generally, the VA covers the costs of up to 90 days of services and therapy in this case.

However, once the medical personnel determines that you are at risk of self-harm or suicide, you will receive full coverage of all the related costs if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You served on active duty for more than 24 months and didn’t get a dishonorable discharge
  • You were the victim of sexual assault, battery, or harassment while serving in the Armed Forces
  • You served more than 100 days under a combat exclusion or in support of a contingency operation (including as a member of the Reserve) and didn’t get a dishonorable discharge. You meet this requirement if you served directly or if you operated an unmanned aerial vehicle from another location

Note that this condition is applicable even if you address a non-VA healthcare center. In this case, you need to tell the personnel that you are a Veteran, and they will contact the VA and sort out the details.

VA Disability Rates and Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation is considered a dangerous and even potentially life-threatening symptom of depression. Like any other mental health condition, the VA rates depression according to the General Rating Formula for Mental Disorders in the Schedule of Ratings.

Veterans who demonstrate suicidal thoughts or even commit attempts to harm themselves or even die can be entitled to a 70% disability rating per the VA’s rating criteria. 

To receive a 70% VA disability rate for any kind of mental health disorder, you will need to prove the very fact of a suicide attempt or suicidal ideation. Here are the evidence you may provide:

  • Lay Statement
    You can write a lay statement and declare the severity of your mental crisis, mentioning suicidal ideation. Describe in detail the nature of your thoughts, when they occurred, and how they affect your everyday life.
  • Medical Statement
    If you have ever sought medical help or were hospitalized due to a suicide attempt, there should be medical records that describe the event in details
  • Statement From Family or Friends
    Your lay statement can be backed by or even replaced with a statement from your family and friends. Sometimes it may be extremely hard to describe your condition, especially when it comes to such sensitive topics as self-harm and suicide attempts. Someone close to you may provide more objective details that you may not even be aware of, such as the change in your behavior, the symptoms of suicide ideation, and how they affect your life.

As usual, to apply for VA disability benefits, you will need to file the form VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, and the following evidence that establishes the link between your mental health condition and military service:

  • A current diagnosis of a mental health disorder, which may lead to suicide ideation
  • A record of an in-service event, stressor, or incident that caused or contributed to your condition
  • A medical nexus which links the mental health condition and the in-service stressor

VA Disability Benefits for Survivors after a Veteran’s Suicide

If a Veteran does commit suicide, qualifying family members, such as a child, spouse, or parent, may be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.

To start the process of claiming the DIC Benefits, a survivor should contact the VA and report the Veteran’s death by suicide.

Then they need to file the VA Form 21P-534EZ, Application for DIC, Survivors Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits.

To claim the DIC Benefits, you will need to provide evidence, such as medical records, that a Veteran had a service-connected mental health disability that might lead to suicide. In most cases, this evidence will be enough to claim Survivor Dependency & Indemnity Compensation. 

Except for the medical statement and service records, you will need to attach a marriage certificate or birth certificate to establish the link between you and the Veteran and make you an eligible survivor.

In some cases, you may qualify for the DIC benefits even if the Veteran has never been diagnosed with a service-connected mental health disorder. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) may rule in favor of a surviving family member if they provide solid evidence that a Veteran showed symptoms of a mental health disorder or suicidal ideation before committing suicide.

Evidence can be:

  • Medical records that declare evidence of self-harm if a Veteran addressed medical help before
  • Records that a Veteran addressed professional help due to a mental health crisis before, even if they were not officially diagnosed
  • Statements from friends or family that describe the change in a Veteran’s behavior and mental state can indicate a mental health crisis or suicidal ideation

In other words, even if a Veteran has never been diagnosed with a service-connected mental health disability and has never claimed VA benefits for these conditions, a surviving family member can be eligible for the relevant VA benefits in the event of a Veteran’s suicide. However, claiming those benefits may be a long and complicated process that will require collecting lots of evidence and documentation.


That is why it is highly recommended to seek professional assistance and have an insightful expert by your side while navigating this process.

Except for the DIC, a surviving family member may be entitled to:

  • The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
    It is a comprehensive healthcare program in which the VA shares the cost of covered healthcare services and supplies with eligible beneficiaries
  • Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
    This program offers education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of Veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition
  • Counseling
    The VA offers various types of therapy and counseling programs for eligible surviving family members through the VA Healthcare
  • Home Loans
    Surviving family members may also be eligible for the VA Housing allowance and programs that provide financial assistance in purchasing, renting, or renovating a house.
  • Burial Benefits
    VA will pay up to $2,000 toward burial expenses for deaths on or after September 11, 2001. If the Veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, some or all of the cost of transporting the deceased may be reimbursed.

Note that each benefit may have additional eligibility criteria. We strongly recommend consulting professionals who will give you expert advice on which benefits you may be entitled to and how to ensure that you receive your compensation in full.

Conclusion

Suicide is probably one of the most stigmatized topics in a modern community. However, it is a pressing issue with military personnel, and therefore, it simply cannot be ignored.

If you or someone you know suffers from symptoms of a mental health disorder or shows signs of suicide ideation, admitting the problem and receiving help on time can save lives.

You should also remember that a mental health crisis is not something to be ashamed of but a serious condition that makes you eligible for relevant benefits, whether you are one who suffers from suicidal ideation or someone who lost a loved one to suicide.

Contact VCU today, and our team will make sure that you will receive the most relevant information regarding your case, make informed decisions, and successfully claim what is rightfully yours. Just one free 30-minute call with a Veterans Specialist, that you can book right now, will be the first step to overcoming the stigma.

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