What the VA’s Recent National Suicide Data Report Reveals

Have you or a loved one ever served in the military?

It’s a simple question, and yet this quick, pre-screening measure can have significant impact on client retention and outcomes. Why is this such a critical inquiry at intake - and how can you use this information to guide the therapeutic process and provide quality care?

The Importance of Screening

“Suicide prevention remains VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.”
- Robert Wilkie, VA Secretary
 
quality-care-therapeutic-process 
Screening is a crucial tool that allows mental health professionals to identify at-risk individuals during the intake process. And current service members and veterans are at risk. According to the VA National Suicide Data Report 2005--2016:
  • Suicides among current and former service members decreased from 2015 to 2016 (7663 to 7298).
  • In the same period, veteran-specific suicide decreased from 6281 to 6079.
  • The unadjusted suicide rate for veterans is 30.1/100,000.
  • Suicide rates are highest among veterans age 18 to 34. While overall suicide rates declined, this is one age group that continues to increase.
  • Veterans make up eight percent of the general population but account for 14 percent of all suicides.
Asking if a client has served or is serving in the military can help us identify those who have an increased risk of suicide, depression, PTSD, and other mental health challenges. Screening guides treatment plans and ensures we can deliver the appropriate level of care to veterans and active service members.
 
But how do you start? The VA’s Community Provider Toolkit offers guidance. Screening questions include:
  • Have you ever served in the military?
  • Have you served in the Reserves or National Guard?
  • Has a close family member/partner/spouse ever served in the military?
  • What dates did you serve?
  • When did you leave the military (if you have)?
  • Were you deployed?
  • Did you serve in combat?
  • Is there anything you would like to tell me about your service?
While screening is an important tool for identifying individuals at risk during the intake process, Better Outcomes Now - the web application for the Partners for Change Outcome Management System (PCOMS) - is an important tool for identifying individuals at risk during the therapeutic process.
 
PCOMS is empirically proven to identify clients at risk for negative outcomes before dropout or treatment failure. A randomized clinical trial with active duty Iraq and Afghanistan veterans demonstrated improved outcomes and retention with PCOMS.
 
PCOMS’ measures - the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and Session Rating Scale (SRS) - take only minutes to administer using the Better Outcomes Now tool, and give both a viable screen for distress and access to actionable data.
 
Active service members and veterans face unique challenges. Careful intake screening and routine outcome monitoring can help mental health providers better serve this population and provide quality care.
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