Veteran Suicides: a National Public Health Issue

September 29, 2017

20: the average number of veterans a day who died in this country from suicide
14: the number of veterans who are not under VA care
65: the percentage of all veterans who died by suicide who were age 50 or older
67: the percent of all veteran deaths by suicide as a result of firearm injuries  

Find out what the VA and Congress are doing to fight this national crisis.  

This week, the VA winds down its suicide prevention awareness month campaign and outreach efforts.   

During September, the VA released findings of a detailed analysis of veteran suicide data from all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The analysis was part of its earlier comprehensive examination of more than 55 million records, from 1979 to 2014, as the VA sought to develop and evaluate suicide prevention across the country.  

“These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin in a press release earlier this month.  

“I am committed to reducing Veteran suicides through support and education.” Shulkin said. “We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year, 14 are not under VA care. This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.”  

Closing out the month, Congress held a hearing this week to consider several bills to address mental health services in the VA and veteran suicides, as well as a hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 27, where Shulkin offered testimony to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs regarding how he is addressing suicide prevention in his department.  

“Suicide is a terrible, terrible loss of life - a preventable loss of life,” said committee chair Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in his opening remarks before the committee. “It is a disease, and it is preventable, and there are many things we can do to set the example, including promoting training through our staff and throughout government.”  

As the largest integrated suicide prevention program in the country, the VA has over 1,000 mental health professionals, but more must be done to address the mental health needs of veterans accessing the system, six of whom die by suicide every day, as well as the larger number of veterans-the 14 committing suicide each day who aren't accessing the system because there are not enough health care providers or because other barriers preventing them from getting the necessary care in or outside the system.  

While Shulkin outlined a number of initiatives undertaken in recent months, including establishing a suicide prevention advisory group, developing a patient record flagging system to identify and monitor patients, and establishing a suicide prevention program at every facility, the secretary urged the committee's support in helping him to get more mental health professionals into the VA system, more research dollars, and more public awareness across America, as suicide is everyone's business.  

“Our goal is to eliminate suicide,” said Shulkin. “As stated earlier, six Americans will die during the course of this hearing - I think about this every day - I think about how many veterans are dying every day because we aren't effective at addressing this problem.”  

He went on to emphasize data show VA health care treatment saves lives, but it can't help those veterans not in its system. The VA intends to remain committed to eliminating veteran suicides through more aggressive efforts aimed at risk identification, effective treatments, research, and strategic partnerships.  

Additionally, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing the day prior to consider several bills aimed at preventing suicide and providing enhanced care for veterans suffering from mental health conditions. Some of these bills include:

  • H.R. 1063, Veteran Prescription Continuity Act-ensures transitioning servicemembers receiving medical treatment from DoD receive the medications required when they transfer to a VA medical facility.
  • H.R. 2225, Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act-allows the VA to conduct a pilot program on dog training therapy by entering into agreement with certified non-government entities at a minimum of three but not more than five VA medical centers.
  • H.R. 2327, Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2017-directs the secretary to give grants to eligible organizations to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from severe mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • H.R. 2147, Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2017-requires the secretary to hire additional veterans justice outreach specialists to provide treatment court services for veterans in the criminal justice system.  

The message in both hearings this week was clear: There is much more to be done to reverse the trend on veteran suicides, and MOAA will work with the secretary and members of Congress to make sure the VA has the tools and resources it needs to address this critical public health problem in order to eradicate veteran suicide.  

MOAA members can help too. Learn more about the VA's suicide prevention program and how you can Be There to Save a Life .  

 

Join Today


Not a member of MOAA? When you join MOAA, you become part of the strongest advocate for our military's personnel and their families. The stronger our membership is, the stronger our voice becomes. Consider joining today because every voice counts.

Rate this content