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Health Services Research & Development

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HSR&D In Progress

In this issue: Preventing Suicide among Veterans
>> Table of Contents

March 2021

Overview: HSR&D Efforts Toward VA’s Commitment to Suicide Prevention

Reducing suicide among Veterans continues to be one of VA’s top priorities. As part of VA’s efforts to better understand and address this problem, the 2020 National Veteran Prevention Annual Report examined mortality records from all 50 states and Washington, DC from 2005 to 2018. The Report showed:

  • The number of suicide deaths among Veterans per year increased from 6,056 in 2005 to 6,435 in 2018.
  • Since 2005, the average number of suicide deaths among Veterans per day has remained between 17 and 18, despite observed decreases in the size of the Veteran population. In 2018, an average of 17.6 Veterans died by suicide each day.
  • In 2018, the suicide rate for Veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-Veteran adults.
  • From 2005 to 2018, suicide rates rose significantly faster among men than among women, both for Veteran and non-Veteran populations.
  • Among women Veterans in VA care from 2017 to 2018, suicide counts decreased from 94 to 81. Also, from 2017 to 2018, among women Veterans not in VA care, the number of suicide deaths was unchanged at 210.
  • From 2015 to 2018, suicide rates were highest among White Veterans and lowest among Black or African American Veterans.
  • Findings to date do not indicate pandemic-era increases in Veteran suicides.

HSR&D strives to bring these numbers down with an array of research on suicide and suicide prevention. In addition to numerous individual studies, HSR&D’s Suicide Prevention Research Impact NeTwork (SPRINT) works to accelerate suicide prevention research that will lead to improvements in care, and that will ultimately result in reductions in suicide behaviors among Veterans. VA HSR&D’s Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) also supports several programs and projects targeting suicide prevention. For example, the Randomized Evaluation of a Caring Letters Suicide Prevention Campaign is testing the effects of a Caring Letters Campaign on Veteran Crisis Line callers. Sponsored by HSR&D and the VA Women’s Health Research Network, a recently published special Medical Care supplement will help increase the knowledge base on women and suicide as well as increase national awareness of suicide among women, which may further increase the resources available to tackle this growing concern.

In addition, HSR&D’s Center to Improve Veterans Involvement in Care (CIVIC) partnered with DoD’s Telehealth and Technology Center to develop and test the Virtual Hope Box smartphone app. When using the virtual hope box, a Veteran sets up the app with photos of friends and family, sound bites and videos of loved ones and special moments, music, relaxation exercises, games, helpline numbers, and reminders of reasons for living. As of Spring 2018, the app had been downloaded 400,000 times, with high positive feedback.

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