In California Study, Many Veterans at Risk of Suicide Have Unlocked Gun at Home

Suicide by firearm is the number one cause of suicide death among veterans
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FRIDAY, April 28, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- A new study on veterans, gun storage, and suicidal thoughts points to an urgent need for mental health and substance-related services, according to researchers.

The study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that about one in seven veterans with a firearm at home in California had thought about suicide. The study was peer-reviewed and published April 26 on the website of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research but has not been published in a medical journal

"Suicide by firearm is the leading cause of suicide death among veterans," said the center's director, Ninez Ponce, Ph.D., principal investigator of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). "Creating programs that would facilitate the secure storage of guns is a critical first step toward ensuring the safety of those struggling with thoughts of suicide, especially California veterans," she said in a center news release.

Researchers used data from the 2021 CHIS survey to better understand the issue. They found that 38 percent of vets in California lived in a home with a firearm, and about 36 percent of them stored at least one gun unlocked. About 14 percent reported that at least one gun was stored loaded and unlocked -- about double the number among nonveterans. About 14 percent of California vets said they had seriously considered suicide at some point. In all, just over 18 percent of veterans who had had suicidal thoughts currently had at least one firearm that was stored loaded and unlocked. About 18 percent of vets with a firearm said they had needed professional help for an emotional, mental health, or substance use problem in the past year.

Experts need to figure out better ways to meet vets' mental health needs both through the Department of Veterans Affairs and other health systems, and encourage voluntary secure firearm storage options, Joseph Simonetti, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora and lead author of the study, said in the release.

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