Recent research has revealed female veterans face a higher risk of suicide than their male and civilian counterparts. The House passed a bill on February 9 that aims to address the alarming trend among the nation’s growing demographic.
Authored by Rep. Julia Brownley, the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act will determine which of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ programs are the most effective in preventing female veteran suicides. The measure will also examine factors unique to women in order to allow the development of gender-specific programs.
“We can and must do more to address the epidemic of suicide among our women veterans,” said Brownley. “We know that suicide can be prevented, but we need to work harder to understand the root causes. This bill is an important step forward toward that goal.”
VA studies have shown female veterans are six times more likely to commit suicide as civilian women. The suicide risk doubles for female veterans between the ages of 18 and 29. The majority of research into veteran suicide has focused on males who comprise 90 percent of the veteran population. As a result, the reasons for the high female veteran suicide rate are unclear.
Researchers have identified several possible factors. These include adverse childhood incidents before military service, injuries such as traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma (MST) among women. They found that veterans who experienced sexual assault while in the military faced an overall higher risk of suicide.
Female veterans with a history of MST were more than twice as likely to commit suicide as women veterans without such experiences. The results highlight the importance of MST awareness and mental health treatment for associated conditions such as post-traumatic stress or depression, which can be risk factors for suicide.
Overall, the VA’s suicide prevention efforts have appeared to help male veterans more than women. While the VA has taken steps to improve mental health programs aimed at women, there is no gender-specific data available on their effectiveness.