WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Suicide rates of young veterans rose "astronomically" in a three-year period, while the rate among older veterans fell slightly, Veterans Affairs officials say.
Data released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed a 44 percent increase in suicides for male veterans under the age of 30, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.
The VA found an 11 percent increase in suicide rates for female veterans.
The report covers the years 2009-2011, the latest for which information is available.
Such rates "are astronomically high and climbing," said Jan Kemp, VA's national mental health director for suicide prevention. "That's concerning to us."
Suicide rates for older veterans decreased slightly, but the rates for all veterans were above those for civilians.
Kemp said the reason for the higher rates was unclear. However, the stresses of leaving the military routine, readjusting to civilian life and combat injuries may play a part, she said.
Getting younger veterans to seek help is sometimes a problem, Kemp added, because of stigmas about mental health problems.
The VA has found that veterans who seek help through the department fare better, Kemp said. Of an average 22 veterans who commit suicide each day, only five kill themselves while receiving treatment from the VA health system.
Kemp said recent increases in VA mental health and suicide prevention staff are not reflected in the data released Thursday.