Suicide Prevention Resources for Veterans
Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2017
The nationwide push to address veteran suicide rates continues to be a top focus for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as it recently released updates to its latest study examining more than 55 million records, from 1979-2014, the largest data mine of its kind in the nation’s history.
The latest results offer a deeper look into factors such as age, gender and location of residence to better understand the epidemic of veteran suicide and improve suicide prevention programs across the nation.
Suicide Prevention Research
A driving force for the continued research is the fact that of the estimated 20 veteran suicides a day, 14 of those veterans were not under VA care.
As a result, the VA is hoping to not only improve its suicide prevention efforts, but raise awareness for both civilians and veterans on available resources and the difference that treatment can make.
While suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. overall, veterans are disproportionately at risk – studies show they are 22% more likely to commit suicide when compared with their civilian peers.
More key findings from the 48-page report shed light on which demographics are being most affected by suicide.
- Female veterans are almost 2.5 times as likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts. Additionally, female veterans who were not using VA services experienced an 82% increase in suicide rates over the last 15 years. Over the same time period, female veterans using VA services actually saw a 3% decrease in suicide rates, further proving the importance of getting veterans enrolled and utilizing mental health services available to them.
- The most recent statistics show that approximately 65% of all veterans who died by suicide were age 50 or older, although there has been an increase in rates of suicide among younger veterans ages 18–29.
- Veterans in the Western U.S. and rural areas are more at risk for suicide than other states. Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah had the highest rates of veteran suicide, suggesting a connection between how far a veteran must travel to receive VA health care as well as the increased isolation of rural settings.
- While the suicide rates compared to population numbers are highest in the West, the largest number of veteran suicides overall still take place in the highest populated cities. Veteran suicide rates tend to mirror civilian suicide rates geographically, although veterans are 22% more at risk compared to civilians of similar age and gender.
An additional hurdle faced by the VA is a deficit in mental health care professionals it employs; according to VA Secretary David Shulkin, the department set plans to hire 1,000 new mental health specialists in 2017. But as of September 1, only 649 had been hired, barely filling positions as they are vacated.
Shulkin is currently working with lawmakers and other mental health experts on what the VA is labeling its “top clinical priority.” The VA has established two centers that focus solely on suicide research – one in Denver and one in New York – where researchers study factors that may contribute to suicide risk and develop and test public health intervention strategies for suicide prevention.
Resources for Veterans
The VA recently launched an outreach campaign, "#BeThere," aimed at offering practical ways to join the fight against the rate of veteran suicide. The campaign included crisis line contact information, a resource locator, support services based on branch of service and ways to connect to support groups or one-on-one coaching.
For civilians, the site offers practical ways to help service members and veterans who may be struggling, and tools for helping raise that awareness via social media. The campaign will also be promoting a video featuring Tom Hanks, encouraging all to be aware and look for ways to support one another.
Remember, veterans and their loved ones can:
- Call the confidential, free Veterans Crisis Line at: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.
- Chat online confidentially 24/7.
- Send a text message to 838255 to connect with a qualified VA responder who can deal with any immediate crisis.
Each VA Medical Center also has a Suicide Prevention Coordinator or team who work with the Veterans Crisis Line representatives, to coordinate care for issues ranging from depression and PTSD to readjustment challenges and sleeping problems.
For more information about VA mental health resources or suicide prevention, visit: www.mentalhealth.va.gov.