A new University of Pennsylvania study may offer clues to helping military veterans avoid suicide.

The study followed veterans treated after they attempted suicide in the mid-1990s. In the decade after a suicide attempt, survivors had higher death rates than the general population.

Suicide was the No. 1 cause of death among the women veterans; it was the No. 2 killer among the men. Researcher Douglas Wiebe says, in contrast, suicide was the ninth leading cause of death across the U.S. population.

"That first suicide attempt is a way to identify people who truly are at heightened risk, and then to be able to target prevention resources to that at-risk population," Wiebe said.

As the Department of Veterans Affairs has made suicide prevention a priority, Wiebe said his study may pinpoint the soldiers most in need.

The Penn study reviewed death records through 2002. Wiebe said it's unclear if those results hold true for today's soldiers.

"It may be that the risk currently is even heightened compared to what we saw, given that intense and repeated deployments are happening more often now. Today's soldiers may be particularly vulnerable," he said.

The study appears in the journal BMC Public Health