Primary care clinician responses to positive suicidal ideation risk assessments in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan

Steven K. Dobscha, Lauren M. Denneson, Anne E. Kovas, Kathryn Corson, Drew A. Helmer, Matthew J. Bair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine primary care clinician actions following positive suicide risk assessments administered to Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans. Methods: We identified OEF/OIF veterans with positive templated suicide risk assessments administered in primary care settings of three Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers. National VA datasets and manual record review were used to identify and code clinician discussions and actions following positive assessments. Bivariate analyses were used to examine relationships between patient characteristics and discussions of firearms access and alcohol/drug use. Results: Primary care clinicians documented awareness of suicide risk assessment results for 157 of 199 (79%) patients with positive assessments. Most patients were assessed for mental health conditions and referred for mental health follow-up. Clinicians documented discussions about firearms access for only 15% of patients. Among patients whose clinicians assessed for substance abuse, 34% received recommendations to reduce alcohol or drug use. Depression diagnoses and suicidal ideation/behavior severity were significantly associated with firearms access discussions, while patient sex, military service branch, and substance abuse diagnoses were significantly associated with recommendations to reduce substance use. Conclusion: Greater efforts are needed to understand barriers to clinicians' assessing, documenting and counseling once suicidal ideation is detected, and to develop training programs and systems changes to address these barriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-317
Number of pages8
JournalGeneral Hospital Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Depression
  • Screening
  • Suicide
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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