Original Article

VHA Chaplaincy Contact with Veterans at Increased Risk of Suicide

Authors: Marek S. Kopacz, MD, PhD, Janet M. McCarten, PhD, Michael J. Pollitt, DMin, BCC

Abstract

Objectives: To examine the extent to which chaplains interact with military veterans at increased risk of suicide and select characteristics related to those at-risk veterans who present for chaplaincy services.

Methods: The nationwide network of chaplains affiliated with the Veterans Health Administration (n = 990) was e-mailed a letter inviting those who have contact with at-risk veterans to complete a survey. This letter included an Internet link, connecting respondents to an online survey collection service. One hundred eighteen chaplains (11.91%) responded to the survey.

Results: More than half of the respondents reported that veterans at increased risk of suicide constitute either <5% or 5% to 10% of the overall population of veterans under their care. At-risk veterans are most often identified based on open admission of suicidal behavior or red flags in their treatment file. Veterans typically do not look for chaplains from their own faith tradition, will seek care from >1 chaplain, and present at a moderate-to-high level of risk.

Conclusions: The present study finds that some at-risk veterans look to chaplains for supportive services. The findings also allow for opportunities for future research.

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