What can we do to prevent female veteran suicides?

The suicide rate among female veterans is startling. While it decreased 12.8% between 2018 and 2019, women veterans are still 2.1 times more likely to die by suicide than nonveteran women.

Why is this the case, and what can we do to help prevent this from happening?

We’ll try to answer both of those questions below.

Why do so many women vets die by suicide?

A recent article and video podcast published by the RAND Corporation sheds some light on why many women veterans consider suicide.

The main cause according to RAND’s researchers? Military sexual trauma.

“Sexual trauma is a significant risk factor for suicide,” says researcher Rajeev Ramchand, “VA patients who screen positive for military sexual trauma have a higher risk of dying by suicide than those who don’t.”

The article goes on to say that 1 in 4 women veterans are victims of sexual trauma, although they acknowledge that incidents may be underreported due to stigma or the fear of consequences for reporting.

In another publication — the 2018 Annual Summit Report published by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) — 49% of participants say that bias, harassment, or assault during military service had negatively affected their mental health.

What is being done to reduce the suicide rate of women veterans?

In 2016, the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act was signed into law. This legislation tasked the VA with identifying the most effective programs and approaches to reduce the suicide rate among women veterans.

In response, the VA launched or reinvested in several initiatives, including:

  • Bystander intervention training — A course that trains all servicemembers in responding to harassment or sexual assault.
  • Transition training — An at-your-own-pace course that helps servicewomen and women veterans transition from military to civilian life.
  • Veterans health reengagement training — A course that helps women veterans access VA benefits so they can take full advantage of available healthcare resources.
  • Beyond MST — A free, private and secure mobile app designed to support the health and well-being of military sexual trauma survivors.

More recently, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it would be providing $911.1 million to “gender-specific care and programmatic efforts for women.” While we don’t yet know how this funding will be used, the committee also put $13.9 billion toward veteran mental healthcare, so we are optimistic that more resources will be established to help prevent suicides.

What else can we do to stop suicides among veteran women?

Here are some recommendations that could help to reduce the suicide rate:

  • Make VA and contract facilities better for women — Women only make up 8% of all VA patients, even though they make up 16% of the active-duty military force. VA facilities should be places where women feel safe and comfortable to seek treatment, and each facility should have enough female staff to treat their female patient population.
  • Train more specialists — Educational institutions should be incentivized to train more healthcare professionals in treating women veterans. If more doctors and specialists understand MST and how other common conditions present in women, they will be better equipped to treat women who’ve served in the military.
  • Expand mental healthcare access — According to SWAN’s 2018 Annual Summit Report, 10% of women veterans say that “easy access to affordable, discreet and better trained counselors” would help them to improve their well-being. There needs to be more places where women can go to seek mental health treatment, particularly in underserved areas.

Valor Healthcare is committed to helping end women veteran suicides

Valor Healthcare partners with public and private medical clinics to bring high-quality healthcare to American veterans. Partner with us to give your patients access to more specialists and expanded services.