Military veterans account for about 13.7% of suicides among adults in the U.S. [CDC, 2022] In 2018, the suicide rate among veterans was approximately 1.5x greater than the non-veteran U.S. adult population (Figure 1a).
In 2018, around 46 per 100,000 veterans died by suicide, which represents a higher suicide rate compared to 2005-2017 (32 per 100,000). [Suitt, 2021]
Suicide rates among Missouri veterans are 40% higher than the national average, however specific demographic breakdowns are still lacking. [VA, 2018]
Suicidal behavior in veterans can be attributed to a complex interplay of: (1) post-traumatic stress disorder, (2) traumatic brain injury, (3) loss of a sense of purpose, (4) loss of a sense of belonging, and (5) substance use disorders. [American Legion, 2018]
While a majority of veterans are assessed for suicide risk, many do not receive treatment or rehabilitation services to reduce this risk. [Watkins, 2011] However, higher levels of social support can reduce suicide risk. [Lemaire, 2011]
In 2018, 68.2% of U.S. veterans who died by suicide used a firearm. Other common lethal means include suffocation (17%) and poisoning (9%)(Figure 1b).
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 established a nationwide suicide prevention crisis hotline (“988”), which includes integrated support for the Veterans Crisis Line.
In 2018, the VA and CDC adopted a 10-year national strategy for preventing veteran suicide.[VA, 2018]
Law enforcement response: Green Alert programs in DE, KY, TX, and WV allow the public to locate missing veterans who could potentially be at risk for self-harm.
Access to lethal tools: Some states allow voluntary programs for veterans to temporarily (CO, WA, MD, MS) or through visitation from an advocate (CO) to relinquish lethal tools such as firearms and medication during times of crisis.
Retailer education: Gun shop programs (NH and UT) provide resources for stores to provide suicide prevention materials and training on how to identify persons who may be suicidal.
Higher education: Suicide prevention training (WA) for higher education professionals to identify students who are veterans at risk of suicide.
Treatment: Many local municipalities participate in a veteran treatment court model, where veterans in substance use judicial proceedings are connected with treatment options. [NCSL, 2021]
Supplemental Table 1 lists the types of U.S. Veterans' Affairs programs and the data supporting their utility.
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