Year: 2020 Source: JAMA Network Open. (2020). 3(9), e2016261. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.16261 SIEC No: 20200781

Importance  Although interest is high in addressing suicide mortality after the transition from military to civilian life, little is known about the risk factors associated with this transition. To support the ongoing suicide surveillance work of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, examining these factors is important for targeting suicide prevention efforts.

Objective  To examine the prevalence, patterns, and associated characteristics of suicide mortality among US service members after separation from military active status.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective population-based cohort study obtained demographic and military service data from the VA/Department of Defense Identity Repository. Individuals who served on active duty in the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard after September 11, 2001, and who separated from active status between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2017, were included in the cohort. Data analyses were conducted from September 9, 2019, to April 1, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Suicide mortality within 6 years after separation from military service.

Results  A total of 1 868 970 service members (1 572 523 men [84.1%]; mean [SD] age at separation, 30.9 [9.9] years) separated from the military during the study period. Through the end of the study period (December 31, 2017), 3030 suicides (2860 men and 170 women) were identified as having occurred within 6 years of separation from the military. Statistically significant differences in suicide risk were found by demographic and military service characteristics. Suicide rates after separation were time dependent, generally peaking 6 to 12 months after separation and declining only modestly over the study period. Male service members had a statistically significantly higher hazard of suicide than their female counterparts (hazard ratio [HR], 3.13; 95% CI, 2.68-3.69). Younger individuals (aged 17-19 years; HR, 4.46 [95% CI, 3.71-5.36]) had suicide hazard rates that were approximately 4.5 times higher than those who transitioned at an older age (≥40 years). Service branch remained a risk factor for suicide even 6 years after separation; those who separated from the Marine Corps (HR, 1.55; 95% CI, 1.36-1.78) and the Army (HR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.31-1.67) had a higher hazard than those who transitioned from the Air Force. The hazard for those who separated from the active component was higher than for those who separated from the reserve component (HR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.18-1.42). Service members with a shorter length of service had a higher hazard (HR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.11-1.42) than those with a longer service history.

Conclusions and Relevance  Results of this study show that not all service members who recently transitioned from military life had the same risk of suicide. The data suggest that awareness of military service and demographic characteristics can help identify those most at risk for suicide to target prevention efforts.