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In this issue: Preventing Suicide among Veterans
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March 2021

Can Services to Address Veterans’ Social Determinants of Health Reduce Suicide Risk?

Feature Article


Takeaway: This study integrates a public health perspective to suicide prevention, viewing suicide risk and the complex needs of Veterans at risk of suicide through a lens of social determinants of health (SDH).


VA offers accessible and effective suicide prevention strategies, but Veteran suicide remains elevated compared to the general US population, indicating a continued need to identify Veterans at risk for suicide and provide interventions to prevent suicide. Suicide prevention can be enhanced when healthcare systems integrate dynamic social determinants of health (SDH), such as housing instability, justice involvement, and unemployment.

This ongoing study (October 2020 – September 2023) will examine how services addressing adverse SDH may also prevent suicide among Veterans—key objectives in VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide 2018–2028. This study aims to:

  • Determine whether VA services tailored to address SDH also may have an added benefit of preventing suicide mortality;
  • Identify organizational assets and opportunities to improve how SDH-focused services address suicide risk among Veterans; and
  • Engage Veterans in identifying ways to integrate suicide prevention into VA programs that respond to SDH.

Methods

This study uses a concurrent mixed methods design. Retrospective quantitative analyses will examine how VA services tailored to Veterans’ adverse SDH (i.e., housing instability, justice involvement, unemployment) may protect against suicide mortality and morbidity. Qualitative data will be collected through interviews with staff/key informants, as well as Veterans who have a history of suicide risk, to explore how services to address SDH respond to those needs.

Findings

None to report at this time.

Anticipated Impact

This project will lead to increased linkages to services to address adverse social determinants of health among Veterans with histories of suicidal crisis, as well as enhanced training for providers to integrate suicide prevention into services addressing SDH, and vice versa. Investigators have engaged several VA operations partners—Social Work, VA Homeless and Justice Programs, employment programs, and VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention—to facilitate removing siloes around SDH and suicide prevention within VA, amplifying VA’s current infrastructure to bolster suicide prevention.  

Principal Investigators: Ann Elizabeth Montgomery, PhD, is part of VA’s National Center on Homelessness among Veterans, and the Birmingham, Alabama VA Health Care System, and Gala True, PhD, is with the South Central Mental Illness Research and Education Center (MIRECC) at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.

Publications

None to report at this time.

View study abstract

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