Characteristics of Veteran and Civilian Suicide Decedents: A Sex-Stratified Analysis


      Few studies have examined characteristics distinguishing Veteran and civilian suicide decedents. An understanding of unique risk factors for Veteran suicide is critical to develop effective preventive interventions. This is particularly imperative for female Veterans, who have near double the suicide mortality rate of same-aged female civilians. The objectives of this study were to examine whether Veteran and civilian suicide decedents differed on risk factors and suicide-event characteristics, and to determine whether predictors changed based on sex.


      Data from 116,515 suicides collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System in 27 states between 2003 and 2015 were analyzed in 2018 in sex-stratified analyses. Logistic regression models examined population differences in risk factors and suicide-event characteristics.


      Relative to male civilians, male Veterans were more likely to have a contributing physical health problem (AOR=1.10, 95% CI=1.06, 1.14) and to use a firearm for their suicide (AOR=1.41, 95% CI=1.36, 1.47); they were less likely to have substance use problems (AOR=0.70, 95% CI=0.66, 0.75), depressed mood (AOR=0.93, 95% CI=0.90, 0.97), or financial problems (AOR=0.91, 95% CI=0.86, 0.97). Female Veterans were more likely to use a firearm for their suicide (AOR=1.39, 95% CI=1.19, 1.63) relative to female civilians.


      Firearm use as a suicide method was a key distinguishing feature of Veteran suicide. Means restriction and firearm safety are pertinent to preventing Veteran suicide. Given low utilization of mental health care and frequent presence of physical health problems in this population, safe storage messages may have a greater preventive impact if delivered in primary care or other nonpsychiatric settings.
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      1. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. Veteran Suicide Data Report, 2005–2016. Published September 2018. Accessed December 6, 2018.

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