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Opinion: Congress Must Act on Veteran Suicide Rates

Twenty veterans will commit suicide today. Congress must seek answers.

Most of my fellow veterans and I live in constant dread of “the phone call”— that moment when we’re informed that yet another of our brothers has chosen to end his life. It happens with sickening frequency. On average, 20 veterans commit suicide every day, and the vast majority do so with a firearm.

In our national conversation on gun violence, we often forget that two-thirds of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides and that a disproportionate number of these are veterans. Solving this crisis is difficult for a very specific reason: We simply don’t know much about it.

Dave Myers II is from Southwest Missouri, a Veteran soldier, and member of the National Guard.

A lack of federal research into gun violence and veteran suicide means that our assumptions are pure guesswork. We do not have hard data on the causes, the warning signs, or the efficacy of proposed solutions. Without better insight, how are we supposed to solve the problem?

That question has particularly high stakes in Missouri, where our veteran suicide rate far exceeds the national average in every single age group. Missouri’s veterans also commit suicide at more than triple the rate of our state’s non-veterans.

Supporting the quest for answers has nothing to do with supporting or opposing any particular gun policy. It’s all about laying the groundwork necessary to have an informed conversation. Debating gun laws before we understand gun violence is like debating heart disease without knowing what cholesterol is. It’s pointless and premature.

This is why other leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, each receives tens of billions in federal research funding. One study by the JAMA Network found that, relative to its mortality rate, gun violence receives only 1.6 percent of the federal funding that other causes of death would receive.

Another alarming fact is that gun violence kills about as many Americans every year as sepsis, yet it receives only 0.7% of the research funding that sepsis receives. This means that for every $100 Congress spends trying to understand the “sepsis crisis,” it spends about 70 cents trying to understand gun violence, even though half of Americans believe gun violence should be Congress’s number one priority.

Research into heart disease and cancer has saved untold lives, and research into gun violence could too. We already have an entire Department of the federal government dedicated to the wellbeing of our veterans. It is past time that Congress appropriate funds to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to study this crisis.

Both political parties have their own opinions of what must be done to solve America’s gun problem, but few people seem to realize that a critical piece of the puzzle is missing: basic information. We simply don’t have the insight, the data, and the answers necessary to really attack this problem at its source.

We encourage Senators Josh Hawley and Roy Blunt, who both hold strong records when it comes to fighting for our veterans and the men and women who serve in uniform, to lead the way on this important cause. For my fellow veterans and me, it’s the only way to make the phones stop ringing.