A Meaningful Step Toward Veteran Suicide Prevention

suicide counseling veterans

A Meaningful Step Toward Veteran Suicide Prevention

Suicides in the U.S. continue to rise at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate in the U.S. has climbed 35% since 1999. While this statistic is alarming in its own right, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that (after adjusting the numbers for age and gender), veterans are committing suicide at a rate of about 1.5 times that of the general population.

A survey of members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), taken last December and January reported that 44% admitted to having thoughts about suicide since joining the military, and 62% reported knowing a veteran who died by suicide.

Though an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide every day, according to U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA), studies show that typically only six of that 20 had been receiving healthcare services at the VA during the time leading up to their death.

For many years, VA resources have been stretched thin, resulting in long wait times and access bottlenecks. According to one 2018 evaluation conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, more than half of VA facilities were “below or far below the benchmark” for timely access to mental healthcare.

That’s why senators Boozman and Warner are calling on the House of Representatives to pass the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

On August 5th, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed that landmark legislation named to honor the legacy of retired Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon, who served for 23 years, and died by suicide in February of 2018, after a courageous battle against post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and bipolar disorder.

The bill is focused on efforts to prevent veteran suicides and improve mental health outcomes through improved access to care, better diagnostic tools, and increased oversight of VA programs. The bill includes provisions from the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act which was introduced in June 2019.

Its aim is to enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services, and better measure the effectiveness of those programs. It would significantly expand mental health access and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas by awarding three-year grants to organizations that have a proven track record in suicide prevention. It would also include increased access to telehealth services in underserved areas.

Bringing outside organizations into the fold and sharing information and resources with the common goal of savings lives would significantly expand mental health access, better-leverage existing community resources, and reach more veterans in high-need geographic areas. In addition to expanding  access, this strategy would cut down on wait times for its mental healthcare patients.

In simple terms, the broad objectives of this bill are:

  • To enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
  • To increase coordination among currently disparate community resources which play a part in reducing suicide
  • To create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.

Services would include, but not be limited to, mental health consultations, medication management, therapy, and employment and job training resources.

President Trump is supportive of the solution outlined in the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act and included the approach in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) which was rolled out at the White House earlier this summer.  Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) were the original cosponsors of the legislation.

 

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About the author

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Caroline Sposto is a writer, actor, and the founder of Savvy Civility, an educational company that specializes in civilian role play training. She has a passion for the arts, education, and small business.