Suicide risk assessment and content of VA health care contacts before suicide completion by veterans in Oregon

Lauren M. Denneson, Chandra Basham, Kathryn C. Dickinson, Megan C. Crutchfield, Lisa Millet, Xun Shen, Steven K. Dobscha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Objective: This study described health care contacts at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Oregon in the year before death of veterans who completed suicide. Methods: Oregon Violent Death Reporting System (OVDRS) data and VA administrative data were linked to identify the 112 veterans who completed suicide in Oregon between 2000 and 2005 and who had contact with a single VA medical center in the year before death. Medical records were reviewed to collect data on clinician assessment of suicide risk and reasons for the last contact. Results: In the year before death, 54 veterans (48%) had one or more mental health contacts and 71 (63%) had one or more primary care contacts. The mean age was 57; common diagnoses included mood disorders (38%) and cardiovascular disease (38%). The median number of days between the last contact and date of death was 42 (range=0-358). Thirty-six last contacts (32%) were patient initiated for new or exacerbated medical concerns, and 76 (68%) were follow-ups for ongoing problems. Clinicians noted that 41 patients (37%) were experiencing emotional distress at the last contact. Thirteen of the 18 patients (72%) who were assessed for suicidal ideation at their last contact denied such thoughts. Conclusions: During their last contact, most veterans were seen for routine medical care and few endorsed thoughts of suicide. Results underscore challenges that clinicians face in identifying and caring for veterans at risk of suicide in health care settings. Additional research is indicated to identify better ways to facilitate communication of suicidal thoughts when they are present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1192-1197
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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