loading gif icon


How to Create a Veterans Suicide Prevention Program

To address the alarming rates of veteran suicide, it’s imperative to understand the multifaceted nature of the stressors they encounter. These stressors do not boil down to one condition or event, but represent an intricate interplay of factors that affect an individual’s overall well-being. To help those veterans who struggle with suicidal ideation, consider creating, or partnering with, a veterans suicide prevention program.

Suicide prevention programs are not just about reducing the incidence of suicide; they also help to foster resilience and create a supportive environment for veterans navigating the complexities of civilian life.

The need for veterans suicide prevention programs

A group of veterans participating in a veterans suicide prevention program

Transitioning from military to civilian life brings about various stressors for veterans. Shockingly, suicide rates among U.S. veterans are 1.5 times higher than those among civilian adults in the United States. Over 60% of veterans with suicidal thoughts are currently not receiving the mental health support they require, hampered by barriers such as mental illness stigma and the perception that seeking help is a sign of “weakness.”

As suicide rates among the general U.S. population have increased, so too have the rates among veterans. Consider the following data:

  • During each year between 2008-2017, there were more than 6,000 suicides among U.S. veterans.
  • After adjusting for differences in gender and age, the rate of suicide among veterans is 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults.
  • The majority of veterans who die by suicide use a firearm. While the use of a firearm is the most common method for suicides in general, a much higher percentage of veteran suicides involve firearms (69%) compared to non-veteran suicides (48%), especially among male veterans (71%).
  • The greatest total number of deaths among veterans in 2017 occurred among those 55-74 years old. However, when examining suicide rates, they were highest among younger veterans, ages 18-34.
  • Male veterans have higher suicide rates than female veterans.

What to include in your organization’s suicide prevention program for veterans

Unfortunately, suicidality among veterans is an all-too-common occurrence. For healthcare organizations that treat veteran populations, creating a program that can identify individuals struggling with suicidal ideation and other mental health conditions can go a long way to decreasing the incidence of suicide among veterans.

In this section, we’ll review some of the techniques your organization can use to begin providing a veterans suicide prevention program to those you support.

Utilize veteran-specific initiatives


The Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment (REACH VET) uses predictive analytics in an attempt to identify and prevent suicide in veterans.

Accordingly, the program examines veterans’ health records using an algorithm to identify individuals at risk for suicide or other adverse outcomes.

Mental health or primary care providers then reach out to veterans identified as at-risk to make contact, assess well-being, and coordinate care if needed.


BeThere emphasizes the importance of peer and community support in addressing the crisis of veteran suicide and improves access to VA resources and peer support for veterans and service members at risk for suicide.

See below for more on peer support.

Coaching Into Care

Coaching Into Care uses a telephone service aimed at educating and supporting family members and friends who are seeking help for veterans. When someone calls, they speak to a mental health professional for 10-30 minutes to get information on community and VA referrals. During these calls, they will also receive coaching on various topics related to helping veterans with their mental health.

Peer Support

Peer support groups available to veterans vary by specific VA facilities. Due to the numerous groups available in the community, veterans may be referred to suicide-specific groups through organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Peer support specialists may be veterans who are actively managing a mental health condition and are certified to help others meet treatment goals.

S.A.V.E. Training

S.A.V.E. is a training program designed for all individuals who interact with veterans. The program includes various training materials including risk factors of suicide, myths about suicide, and how to effectively ask about suicide.

Solid Start

This program provides outreach support to veterans who have recently separated from military service. During their first year of military separation, the program makes three outreach calls to link veterans with needed services.

Practice safety planning

Veterans facing thoughts of suicide can find support through a veterans suicide prevention program, which may include the development of a personalized suicide safety plan. Crafting this plan should be a collaborative process between the provider and the veteran, emphasizing the veteran’s active involvement. The optimal approach is to articulate the safety plan in the veteran’s own words, as this will foster a sense of ownership over, and connection to, the plan.

Studies have found that veterans derive significant benefits from safety plans when they perceive the clinician as a collaborative partner. This collaborative approach allows for open discussions about concerns and joint identification of viable solutions.

Research underscores the effectiveness of safety plans, especially when compared to “no suicide” contracts. Indeed, the latter is no longer recommended by suicide prevention experts. Among soldiers, those engaged in safety planning reported a quicker reduction in suicidal ideation and fewer days of inpatient hospitalization. By incorporating these insights into a veterans suicide prevention program, you can create effective outcomes and better support the veteran population.

To learn how to create a safety plan, see our article, Safety Planning Checklist for You and Your Clients.

Provide lethal means counseling

A crucial step when assisting at-risk veterans is to eliminate access to potentially lethal means, including firearms, poisons, or certain medications. This step is paramount in preventing impulsive suicide attempts, which frequently happen during short-term crises.

Counseling aimed at reducing access to lethal means plays a pivotal role in saving lives. By creating physical and logistical barriers, such as limiting access to firearms and securing medications, we can effectively increase the time and distance between an individual in acute distress and the means to carry out a potentially lethal act.

Relias Solutions for Supporting Veteran & Military Populations

Behavioral health clinicians are pivotal in supporting the mental well-being of Veterans, military personnel, and their families. Learn how Relias can help.

Learn more →

Connect with Us

to find out more about our training and resources

Request Demo