Reducing Gun Access for Veterans at Risk for Suicide

Walters, H., Kulkarni, M., Forman, J., Roeder, K., Travis, J., & Valenstein, M. (2012). Feasibility and acceptability of interventions to delay gun access in VA mental health settings. General Hospital Psychiatry, 34, 692-698.

According to Walters, Kulkarni, Forman, Roeder, Travis, and Valenstein (2012), suicides among U.S. veterans have reached critical levels with respective rates for female and male Veterans 87% and 66% higher than the general population. In response to research indicating that access to firearms is an important risk factor for suicide among Veterans, these authors questioned Veterans, family members, and clinicians to determine the acceptability of interventions to improve gun safety. A total of 60 individuals participated in semi-structured interviews and focus groups at a VA hospital in the Midwest. The authors found that it was unusual for clinicians and Veterans to discuss gun ownership. This was due in part to the clinicians’ limited knowledge about firearms and their concern that such a discussion would interfere with the therapeutic relationship. Family members reported removing guns during Veterans’ high risk periods, particularly when substance abuse was also present, and expressed frustration about constraints on their communication with clinicians about safety issues. Most participants supported increased education for Veterans, family members, and clinicians on the risk of suicide by firearms and generally endorsed interventions to reduce gun access during high risk periods. The authors suggested that routine care by VA clinicians should include discussions of gun access and formal assessments of suicide risk.

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