Study Shows that Less than One-Quarter of Veterans who Complete Suicide Access VA Healthcare in Year Prior to Death
While we know that about one-quarter of all U.S. Veterans access care at VA hospitals and clinics – and that the rate of suicide is greater among Veterans than the general population – estimates of the number of Veterans who receive VA care prior to suicide are not available. This study sought to determine the number of Veterans who completed suicide and who had accessed VA healthcare in the Pacific Northwest Region in the year prior to death. Investigators also compared characteristics of those who accessed VA care to those who did not, and examined healthcare use by Veterans who received care in the year prior to death. Using VA data, as well as data from the Oregon Violent Death Reporting System, investigators identified 968 Veterans who completed suicide in Oregon between 2000 and 2005.
- Of the 968 Veterans in this study who completed suicide, less than one-quarter (22%, n=212) accessed VA healthcare in the year prior to death, and a minority of those Veterans visited mental health providers. These numbers are consistent with current estimates of the number of Veterans accessing care at VA hospitals and clinics, and suggest that Veterans who go on to complete suicide may access VA healthcare at similar rates as Veterans who do not commit suicide.
- Of those Veterans who completed suicide, 57% did not have a mental health diagnosis, and 58% had not seen a mental health professional, suggesting that it is perhaps equally important to understand patients with general medical conditions who also may be likely to complete suicide.
- Of those who completed suicide, 55 were hospitalized during the year prior to death. Of these, 39% with a psychiatric hospitalization and 22% with a medical/surgical hospitalization completed suicide within 30 days.
- A large number of Veterans (73% of men; 36% of women) completed suicide by use of a firearm, supporting concerns from earlier studies over firearm access as a key risk factor in Veteran suicide.
- This study did not take into account non-VA healthcare accessed by Veterans in this study.
- The data used in this study were from 2000 to 2005; since then, several VA interventions and initiatives for the prevention of suicide have been put into place.
This study was partly funded through HSR&D (DHI 08-096). Dr. Denneson is part of HSR&D’s Portland Center for the Study of Chronic, Comorbid Physical and Mental Disorders, Portland, OR.
Basham C, Denneson L, Millet L, et al. Characteristics and VA Healthcare Utilization of United States Veterans who Completed Suicide in Oregon between 2000 and 2005. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior April 4, 2011;e-pub ahead of print.