Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First dataset from all states shows veterans' suicides are highest in the West and rural areas

Chart based on partial report issued in 2012
(Click on the image to view a larger version)
Military veterans living in the Western U.S. and rural America are much more likely to die by suicide, possibly because of contributing factors like social isolation, gun ownership, opioid addiction and access to health care, according to the first 50-state Department of Veterans Affairs data on suicide, Hope Yen reports for ABC News: "It shows Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico had the highest rates of veteran suicide as of 2014, the most current VA data available. Veterans in big chunks of those states must drive 70 miles or more to reach the nearest VA medical center." West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky have high suicide rates as well as higher rates of opioid prescriptions.

The study also breaks down gender and age disparities: female veterans are two and a half times more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts. Male veterans are 19 percent more likely. Veterans 50 or older account for about 65 percent of veteran suicides.

The problem is nationwide. Rajeev Ramchard, an epidemiologist who studies suicide for the RAND Corp, told Yen that veterans in every state are at least one and a half times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. He pointed out that 70 percent of veterans who take their lives had not been connected to VA health care. "These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority," VA Secretary David Shulkin told ABC. "This is a national public health issue."

"Shulkin, who has worked to provide same-day mental health care at VA medical centers, recently expanded emergency mental care to veterans with other than honorable discharges," Yen reports. "The department is also boosting its suicide hotline and expanding telehealth options." Expanding private-sector care and stemming veterans' suicide are priorities of President Trump. In a statement this week as part of Suicide Prevention Month, he said the U.S. 'must do more' to help mentally troubled veterans.

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