A survey of assaultive behavior in Veterans Health Administration facilities

Psychiatr Serv. 1999 Mar;50(3):384-9. doi: 10.1176/ps.50.3.384.


Objective: To more clearly define the scope and impact of violence in health care facilities, national data on assaults in VA medical centers and freestanding clinics were examined.

Methods: A survey was distributed to all VA medical centers and freestanding clinics asking for cumulative data for one fiscal year (October 1990 through September 1991). Data were obtained on number, types, and locations of physical assaults and other assaultive behavior; the types of staff assaulted and number of workdays lost due to injuries; diagnoses of perpetrators; recommendations made after the incidents were reviewed; training in prevention and management of assaultive behavior; and the impact of training on rates of assaultive behavior.

Results: During the survey year, 24,219 incidents of assaultive behavior were reported by 166 VA facilities; 8,552 incidents involved battery or physical assault. Weapon possession by perpetrators was common (8.5 percent of incidents), and weapons were used in 130 assaults (1.5 percent of assaults). Assaults occurred most frequently in psychiatric units (43.1 percent), followed by long-term-care units (18.5 percent) and admitting or triage areas (13.4 percent). Assault-related injuries were most common among nursing personnel. Perpetrators of assaults were most typically diagnosed as having psychoses, substance use disorders, or dementia. On inpatient psychiatry units, an inverse correlation was found between expenditures on staffing and the frequency of assaultive incidents. Staff training on management of assaultive behavior varied widely.

Conclusions: Assaultive behavior is a significant problem for health care workers. Staff in all clinical areas need to be prepared to deal with assaultive patients. More research is needed on staff training and interventions for preventing and limiting assaults.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Psychiatric Department, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*