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Male Veterans Have Double the Suicide Rate of Civilians

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New study reflects much larger percentage of veterans than previous studies

Science Update

Male veterans in the general U.S. population are twice as likely as their civilian peers to die by suicide, a large study shows. Results of the research by Mark S. Kaplan, DrPH, and colleagues from Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University were published online June 11 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and will appear in the July issue.

To date, most studies on suicide among veterans have relied on data from those getting health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. However, 75 percent of veterans do not get their health care through the VA. This study included 320,890 men age 18 and older in the general population, 104,026 of them veterans, whom researchers followed for 12 years.

Veterans who were white, had at least 12 years of education, or whose daily-life activities were limited by health problems were at highest risk. Those who were overweight had a lower risk. By the end of the study, 197 of the veterans had died by suicide. During the same period, the risk of death from other causes was the same in the veterans as in civilian men.

Compared to civilian men who died by suicide, veterans were 58 percent more likely to use a firearm to end their lives.

"Veterans in the general U.S. population, whether or not they are affiliated with the VA, are at an elevated risk of suicide," the researchers reported.

The researchers also note that the number of veterans with daily-life activity limitations – one of the higher risk factors for suicide listed above – is likely to rise. They suggest that clinical and community interventions will be needed, and call for clinicians to be alert for signs that veterans might be contemplating suicide and to assess their access to firearms.

Kaplan MS, Huguet N, McFarland H, Newsom JT. Suicide Among Male Veterans: A Prospective Population-Based Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online ahead of print, June 11, 2007.