Guest Commentary: One veteran suicide is too many
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released results of the largest and most comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide ever conducted. More than 55 million veterans’ records were reviewed from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation. This major undertaking has advanced the Department’s knowledge from the previous report conducted in 2012. Compared to the data from the 2012 report, which estimated the number of veteran deaths by suicide to be 22 per day, the current analysis indicates that in 2014, an average of 20 veterans a day died from suicide. Six of the 20 were users of VA services. This information is important as it shows that veterans who actively engage in services provided by VA are less likely to commit suicide than those who are not. The full report is available here:www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/2016suicidedatareport.pdf
Regardless of the numbers or rates, one veteran suicide is one too many. The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, along with VA facilities all across the country, continues to spread the word that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility. We are very committed to our suicide prevention efforts. In addition to the large number of mental health professionals the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System employs, we have a suicide prevention team dedicated to providing ongoing staff training, facilitating prompt delivery of care and responsiveness, and monitoring veterans identified at high risk of suicide. We also have effective treatments that mitigate this risk. Effective treatments include both evidence-based psychotherapies and biomedical treatments that help patients prone to self-harm as a result of a mental health diagnosis.
Another important resource for veterans is the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 press 1). Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive at no cost, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 2.3 million calls and made more than 60,000 lifesaving rescues across the country. In 2015 alone, more than 400 rescues occurred across the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System through our collaboration with local law enforcement agencies. When we are notified that a veteran either directly or indirectly implies that he or she intends to commit suicide or inflict self-harm, we initiate a health and welfare check through local law enforcement and emergency medical services if appropriate. A health and welfare check is local police and other first responders visiting a veteran’s home to ensure he or she is safe. First responders will intervene if necessary and also ensure the veteran receives appropriate care.
Veteran suicide touches everyone – families, friends, those of us at VA, community first responders, and our communities. We urge our community partners, family members, friends and others to help veterans connect to VA health care services. If you know a veteran who needs our help, please help us help them by connecting them with us by letting them know that help is available 24/7. Whether through routine mental health appointments, visits to the emergency department, or telephone care through the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 press 1), we do our very best to address any and all mental health needs, urgent and routine. Thank you for your continued partnership and commitment to the health and well-being of America’s veterans.
Suzanne M. Klinker is the director of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System