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Specialized Care May Curb Suicide Risk in Disabled Veterans


Risk of death by suicide was lower among US veterans with a disability compared with non-veterans with a disability, new data from the 2015-2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show. Investigators speculate that veteran status may mitigate suicide risk given increased provision of disability-related care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, but they acknowledge that more research is needed to confirm this theory.


  • The study includes analysis of self-reported data collected from 2015-2020 from 231,000 NSDUH respondents, 9% of whom were veterans; 20% reported at least one disability.

  • Respondents were asked questions about suicide, veteran status, and the number and type of disability they had, if applicable.

  • Disabilities included those related to hearing, sight, and concentration, memory, decision-making, ambulation, or functional status (at home or outside the home).


  • Overall, 4.4% of the sample reported suicide ideation, planning, or attempt.

  • Among participants with one disability, being a veteran was associated with a 43% lower risk of suicide planning (aOR, 0.57; P = .03).

  • Among those with two disabilities, veterans had a 54% lower likelihood of having a history of suicide attempt compared with nonveterans (aOR, 0.46; P = .02).

  • As compared with US veterans reporting 1, 2, and ≥3 disabilities, US veterans with no disabilities were 50%, 160%, and 127% more likely, respectively, to report suicidal ideation


“The observed buffering effect of veteran status among people with a disability may be reflective of characteristics of disability-related care offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),” the authors write. “It is possible that VA services could act as a protective factor for suicide-related outcomes for veterans with disabilities by improving access, quality of care, and understanding of their disability context.”


Rebecca K. Blais, PhD, of Arizona State University, Tempe, led the study, which was published online October 13 in JAMA Network Open.


Assessments were based on self-reported information and there was no information about disability severity, which may have influenced suicide risk among veterans and nonveterans.


Co-author Anne Kirby, PhD, received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health during the conduct of the study as well as grants from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and personal fees from University of Pittsburgh outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.

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  • Posted on November 17, 2023