Unique Tool to Help Prevent Veteran Suicides


By Debbie Gregory.

Suicide prevention is one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) highest priorities. To that end, the VA has launched a new program that uses analytics to identify veterans who might be at an increased risk of attempting suicide.

The program is called Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health- Veterans Enhanced Treatment, or REACH VET.

The computer algorithm combs through electronic health records and identifies factors that indicate veterans who could be a higher suicide risk. Factors include hospitalizations, chronic illness, relationship issues, life changes, socioeconomic stressors and certain medical and mental health conditions.

The program is available at all VA hospitals. Once a veteran is identified, his or her VA mental health or primary care provider reaches out to check on the veteran’s well-being, review their condition(s) and treatment plans to determine if enhanced care is needed.

The VA has worked to develop the program for about six years.

According to the latest VA statistics, veterans face a higher risk of suicide than the civilian population. While veterans made up about 8.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, they accounted for 18 percent of suicides.

An average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day in 2014. Six of the 20, on average, were enrolled in VA health care.

“REACH VET is a game changer in our effort to reduce Veteran suicide,” said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, National Director of VA’s Office for Suicide Prevention. “Early intervention can lead to better recovery outcomes, lessen the likelihood of challenges becoming crises and reduce the stress that Veterans and their loved ones face.”

“This cutting-edge program is saving lives by identifying at-risk Veterans and connecting them with the specialized care and support they need,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

The VA’s suicide prevention resources include the Veterans Crisis Line, which provides confidential support for all veterans, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in VA health care.

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