Identifying Veterans at highest risk for suicide

Preventing Veteran Suicide


Devising ways to prevent Veteran suicides is front and center on the minds of VA officials. An average of 20 Veterans a day are taking their own lives, a rate that has been holding steady in recent years. Studies have shown that former service members are more likely than non-Veterans to commit suicide.

One of VA’s prevention efforts is an outreach program aimed at predicting who may be at highest risk for suicide and intervening before a suicide occurs.

The program is REACH VET, or Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment. It uses predictive modeling and medical record data to identify Veterans at highest risk for suicide. The model includes such variables as demographics, use of VA services, and medications. Once a Veteran is identified, his or her VA mental health specialist or clinician checks on the Veteran’s well-being and reviews that a person’s treatment plan to determine if enhanced care is needed.

Dr. Sara Landes, a clinical psychologist at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, (pictured above) is leading a study to examine the implementation of REACH VET. The program, launched in April 2017, is now in use at all VA medical centers. It’s run by VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP).

“VA has long been a leader in suicide prevention efforts,” Landes says. “REACH VET represents an innovative program to identify Veterans at risk for negative outcomes. It allows providers to re-evaluate or re-engage Vets in care to address their needs.”

Program is acceptable and feasible

Landes is focusing on the implementation of REACH VET at 28 VA sites. She says preliminary findings about the impact of REACH VET on Veteran outcomes are “promising but not definitive.” In its first year, the program identified 30,000 Veterans who are at risk for suicide.

“Early reports from the field demonstrated positive feedback from Veterans,” says Landes, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas. “We have initial data to support that the program is acceptable and feasible.”

REACH VET is producing information that will inform VA facilities of their patients who are in the top 0.1 percent tier of suicide risk. Early results show the program is having a positive impact on Veterans: more health and mental health care appointments; declines in missed appointments; fewer inpatient mental health admissions; and lower all-cause mortality.

“REACH VET is not about trying to find the Veteran who is in crisis at that moment,” says Aaron Eagan, VA’s deputy director for innovation – suicide prevention. “REACH VET is about identifying a Veteran who has risk factors, so we can help that person before he or she reaches the crisis point.”




Michael Richman

Mike Richman is a writer and editor in VA’s Office of Research and Development. He joined VA in 2016. He previously worked at the Voice of America, one of the U.S.-funded broadcast agencies.





  2. John Adebimitan    

    Thanks for this Michael, it has been found that knowing vets are at risk is the first step towards preventing these suicides.

  3. Mark J.Johnson    

    Its called patient profiling and it is left up to some pretty incompetent people(IE:nurses at VA clinics). It is very demeaning to be talked to like a child when being screened before seeing a doctor. If you complain these same people can easily manipulate your electronic health record. The implications are scary imho…

  4. Denise McDivitt    

    this surprised me-I have never heard of it. Albuquerque, N.M., WAS my primary V.A. hospital. I live in Deming, N.M. 14 years and no psychiatrist, zip, nada, nothing. I have been gone almost a MONTH. I ended up in a locked facility in Albuquerque. Across from the V.A. hospital!!!!! I was diagnosed, treated good and they got me off the V.A. morphine dragon. I have never come so close to ending my own life, after the FRUSTRATION of calling, every V.A. hotline I could. I would love to have more information about this-I never want to slip thru the cracks like that again.

  5. Todd J Cathey    

    An absolute total failure. Crystal ball syvngali mentality

  6. Todd J Cathey    

    Va memphis is a total horror show. Vts is not iaw title 38 us code. Pc is a joke. Have had trigger finger l hand 4 5 digit. Refused consalt to vet choice. Hand still disable
    Va should not be funded. Give me medicare at no cost and no co pay scrip to make up for the no turn back damage va has caused. Would like to sue for gross mafesence and mal practice and deriliction of duty.

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