Oct 2, 2017

The high risk of suicide among veterans

Male veterans have a 19% greater risk of suicide than their civilian counterparts, according to a VA report released this month that provides a groundbreaking look at veterans' suicide rates compared to civilians. The rate for male veterans age 18-29 has been increasing faster than any other age group among men and women since 2006.

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Data: 'Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans, 2001–2014'; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For help: Veterans and loved ones can "call the free and confidential Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255," per the VA. More options via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The crisis: An average of 20 veterans die every day, and of those, 14 may have received no care from the Veterans Health Administration. What that means, as VA Secretary David Shulkin told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee last week, is that “we need to find a way to provide care or assistance to all of these individuals." He called suicide among veterans a "crisis" in his opening statement.

  • The overall suicide rate wasn't as high for female veterans — but it was two and a half times higher than civilian women after adjusting for age, according to the report.
  • For female veterans, suicide rates are highest in the younger years. For male veterans, suicide rates are highest in younger and older years.
  • Overall, veterans have a risk of dying by suicide 22% higher than the U.S. civilian adult population, per 2014 data.

What the VA is doing:

  • The VA rolled out its "REACH VET" (Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health Veterans Enhanced Treatment) program between November 2016 and February 2017, which uses a predictive model to analyze veterans' health records to identify those most at risk for suicide. The idea is that identification can lead to further engagement with primary care or mental health providers.
  • Earlier this year, the VA announced it would hire 1,000 more mental health employees, which Shulkin said is on track to be done by December. They've hired 649 additional mental health employees as of this month.
  • Since 2015, the VA has contracted with an independent evaluator to assess VA mental health and suicide prevention programs. A report is due at the end of this month.

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