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IRON MOUNTAIN – On average, 20 Veterans complete suicide every day. That is 7,300 Veteran deaths a year due to suicide, which is more than double the 2,996 deaths on September 11, 2001.
Suicide prevention among Veterans continues to be VA’s top clinical concern. However, 14 of those 20 Veterans who complete suicide every day are not seeking care in the VA health care system. Some of those Veterans may not have been eligible for VA care due to their discharge from the military under other than honorable circumstances; yet it is these very Veterans that research demonstrates are at elevated risk for suicide.
It is for this reason that in 2017 former Secretary of the VA, David Shulkin, used his authority under current law (38 CFR 17.34) to provide VA mental health care in emergency circumstances for up to 90 days for the estimated 500,000 Veterans with other than honorable discharges. In 2018 this law was amended to provide needed mental health treatment for other than honorably discharged Veterans who served in combat or experienced military sexual trauma. Further, the amended law does not limit the length of these services, nor whether the mental health condition needs to be service related or not.
For more information, Veterans or their families may call the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center’s Enrollment/Eligibility Office at (906) 774-3300, extension 32810 or visit www.maketheconnection.net/FindResources.
VA is continually working to expand and enhance other suicide prevention initiatives as well. VA is using innovative screening and assessment programs to identify at risk Veterans, bolstering mental health services for women Veterans, expanding telemental health services, deploying free mobile apps to help Veterans and their families, and using telephone coaching to assist families of Veterans (800-823-7458 or www.va.gov/coachingintocare). It has also initiated open access scheduling whereby all general mental health providers have unscheduled clinic times to meet with Veterans experiencing an urgent need.
In addition to the above initiatives, Iron Mountain VA placed billboards in various locations across the UP highlighting the VA’s #BeThere suicide prevention campaign and the Veterans Crisis Line. It also created dog tags for Veterans with Veterans Crisis Line contact info and was recently selected to be part of a pilot national program to focus on reducing suicide in the Native American population.
The most important prevention efforts, however, come from those who are closest to the Veteran. No special training is required for people to show the Veteran in their life that they care and support them. VA is ready to help family and friends to start the conversation. I addition to the Coaching into Care, VA has resources to help through its #BeThere campaign (www.bethereforveterans.com). Veterans or their family and friends can also contact the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press
1), chatting online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, or sending a text to 838255.