Women veterans more likely to complete suicide with firearms as the growing method of choice

Jonathan Kaupanger
June 19, 2018 - 1:04 pm

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Elijah Abernathy.)

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Suicide rates are increasing for both veterans and civilians in the US.  Male veterans, when compared to civilian men, are 1.3 times more likely to kill themselves. Women veterans however die by suicide twice as often as their civilian counterparts.

Veterans Affairs released an update to last year’s report on veteran suicide.  This report builds on the information the VA pulled from examining more than 55 million civilian and veteran death records by including information from the centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Death Index.  This now gives us a better view on veteran suicide up through 2015.

According to VA’s Executive Director Suicide Prevention, Dr. Keita Franklin, women in general do attempt suicide more often than males, but are less likely to end with a fatal result.  This is due to the less lethal means like poisoning and suffocation that are typically used.

For women veterans though it’s the opposite. “In the veteran community, females are ending their life with firearms more so than their non-veteran counterpart,” explains Dr. Franklin.  “While I don’t have a study that describes this, we wonder if female veterans have more access to lethal means. We wonder if they have weapons because they are used to having one when they were on duty.  So quick access is a problem.”

When using firearms suicide rates for male veterans has decreased slightly from 68.8 in 2005 to 68.3 in 2015. For women veterans, that percentage grew from 34.3 to 39.9 during the same decade. 

While suicide numbers have increased, rates for veterans who didn’t use VA mental health services grew faster in the 10 years covered by the report. With women veterans more likely to attempt suicide, there’s been a big push to reach these veterans and get them into Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Since 2005, VA has had a 154 percent increase in the number of women accessing VA care.

There’s not a study to back this up yet, but familiarity could be why VA care brings these numbers down. “If you’re comfortable with something, you tend to go back to it,” suggests Danielle Corazza, who’s the national outreach coordinator for VA’s Center for Women Veterans (CWV).  “If you’re in a high state of need, you’re not going to go and find a stranger to help you.  We are focusing on suicide prevention through constant outreach and encouraging enrollment in VA – we know that women veterans who engage with VA are far less likely to commit suicide. ”

“The long term goal is to engage with risk when it’s lower level,” says Dr. Franklin.“When we’re constantly pushing for high risk services, we’re getting people coming in for care when their problems are so complex.  The idea is to get them in for care when they are less complex.”

VA has comprehensive health services for women veterans that include infertility, gynecology and maternity care services that include seven days of newborn care. According to CWV, when it comes to cervical cancer and breast cancer screenings, VA outperforms the private sector military and Medicaid. 

“Show up and use these benefits. Use these programs,” says Corazza.  “We’ve created them for you and we’re committed to making them best in class and most of them already are.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1. 

Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com