Document Type


Publication Date


Date of Final Presentation


Committee Chair

Teresa Serratt, PhD, RN

Committee Member

Pamela Strohfus, DNP, RN

Coordinator/ Chair of DNP Program

Pamela Gehrke, EdD, RN

Abstract/ Executive Summary

Problem Description: Suicide is an increasing problem within the United States, but an even greater problem among the veteran population. Veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than individuals within the civilian population. El Paso County, Colorado has the highest veteran population in the state and the highest number of suicides. Despite numerous military mental health programs available. Studies have found that many veterans will visit a civilian primary care clinic (for various reasons) within a month of taking their own lives but rarely are mental health concerns noted. This can be due to a lack of awareness and training within civilian healthcare clinics, and as a result, a low confidence in addressing veteran’s mental health needs. Having confidence in themselves and understanding veteran mental health concerns and military culture is vital if civilian healthcare staff are to intervene when an opportunity presents itself.

Interventions: A pilot project was conducted at a primary care clinic within El Paso County, Colorado. The staff were provided education on military life and its effect on mental health. A process change was initiated that included inquiring about veteran status of all adult patients and screening for stressors occurring in their life. Any at-risk patients were then referred for additional evaluation or intervention as appropriate.

Results: The cumulative post-test results following the education initiative showed a 21% increase in participants’ knowledge of veterans and an increase in their perceived self-efficacy in discussing mental health issues. A greater awareness of veteran community support programs was noted along with the recognition that veteran status of all primary care patients should be assessed.

Interpretation: The S.A.V.E educational training was well received and provided participants with the tools necessary to understand and discuss mental health with veteran patients. As research shows, the more healthcare workers are trained in awareness of veteran issues, the more they will be confident to discuss mental health issues.

Conclusion: The pilot was successful in improving the participants’ understanding of veteran mental health and resources available within the community. Although identifying veteran patients is recognized as an important step within the family practice clinic, the process is believed to be better served by electronic means, rather than paper surveys. As research shows, continued efforts within the primary care setting will lead to a better understanding of veterans and a confidence of the staff to intervene, thus bridging the gap between mental health and primary care within the community.