In 2019, the last year for which data is available, there were 6,261 veteran suicide deaths, or about seventeen a day. This is 309 fewer than 2018 but still 31.6 per 100,000 people. While this is a step in the right direction, the number is still substantially higher than the rate among nonveteran citizens, which was 16.8 per 100,000. Moreover, if one adjusts for age and sex differences, the rate among veterans was 52.3 per 100,000 people.
Up until July 2021, the VA did not permit the 1.7 million veterans who qualify for both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill, which was enacted in 1984 and provides educational benefits similar to those of the Post-9/11 Bill to those who paid an enrollment fee of $1,200 to use both. In fact, the VA made the veterans who qualified for both to sign a form that requested them to forgo their Montgomery GI Bill benefits in order to receive the more generous Post-9/11 Bill.
But in July of this year, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision that required the VA to pay veterans an additional year of educational benefits under both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In essence, this means that some veterans could now receive forty-eight months of educational benefits, thirty-six from the Post-9/11 bill and 12 from the Montgomery Bill. Moreover, there is no longer a time limit on using these benefits and the veterans can pass all of it or part of it to their family members.
In his first year, McDonough, working with Biden and the Congress, has made significant progress in expanding care and benefits for deserving veterans in some areas. But significant challenges still remain, primarily because of the long wars we have waged in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, over the past half-century, in which more than 6 million servicemen and women have served. And as the Biden administration and Congress continue to expand benefits for these veterans, they need to recognize that the VA budget will continue to grow even more substantially. This is something this country needs to consider as it sends its brave men and women into battle. We may have ended combat in Iraq and Afghanistan but the mental, physical, and fiscal costs of those who have borne the battle will linger for many decades.
Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is a Vietnam veteran and a former Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Kaveh Toofan is a special assistant for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress.