New Suicide Data Reveal Novel Findings

Megan Brooks

May 07, 2015

US military veterans who use Veterans Health Administration (VHA) services have lower suicide rates than their peers who do not take advantage of those services, new research shows.

These are "novel findings," note the researchers, led by Claire Hoffmire, PhD, of the VISN2 Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Canandaigua, New York.

"Veterans are members of the community and, as such, are an important part of observed increases in US suicide rates. Not all veterans are at equal or increasing risk of suicide, however. VHA- utilizing veterans appear to have declining absolute and relative suicide rates," the authors write.

The study was published online May 1 in Psychiatric Services.

Dramatic Decrease

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of 173,969 suicides from 23 states that occurred between 2000 and 2010 and were recorded in the US Department of Veterans Affairs suicide data archive. They directly compared veteran and nonveteran suicide risk and differentiated veterans by VHA service use, something that has not been done before, the authors note.

During the 10-year study period, the suicide rate increased among veterans by about 25% compared with about 12% in the general population, the researchers report. Of note was a 40% increase for female veterans compared with a 13% increase for female nonveterans.

However, they also found that the rate of suicide decreased significantly among veterans who used VHA services and increased for veterans who did not use these services. In 2010, the suicide rate among VHA-utilizing veterans was 27.6 per 100,000 vs 38.7 per 100,000 for non-VHA-using veterans.

These findings "clearly suggest that veterans without a history of VHA service use are at particularly high risk of suicide," the investigators write.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and veterans are at particularly high risk. In 2013, the US Department of Veterans Affairs released a report suggesting that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

The VA Mental Health Enhancement Initiative, launched in 2005, and the Suicide Prevention Program, launched in 2007, are designed to provide readily available access to integrated care through awareness and education campaigns, a 24-hour Veterans Crisis Line, and suicide prevention coordinators to track and follow up with high-risk patients in each VA medical center.

"Research is needed to directly evaluate the impact of these programs overall on veteran suicide rates in recent years and to identify which components of the program are or are not effective," Dr Hoffmire and colleagues write.

"Combating veteran suicide is certainly a high priority within the VHA, and veterans should continue to be recognized as a high-priority suicide research population," they conclude.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

Psychiatr Serv. Published online May 1, 2015. Abstract


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