Pre­vent­ing vet­eran sui­cides: Get­ting to zero

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Opinion - POONAM ALAIGH www.veter­an­scri­sisline.net. Poonam Alaigh is the act­ing un­der­sec­re­tary for health at the U.S. Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs.

The most re­cent Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs statis­tics show that 20 veter­ans a day die by sui­cide. While this is an im­prove­ment over the 22 per day re­flected in a 2012 re­port, we at the VA know that much more needs to be done. Get­ting to zero is our goal, and end­ing vet­eran sui­cide is one of five des­ig­nated pri­or­i­ties of the VA.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­ports sui­cide is ac­tu­ally ris­ing across all de­mo­graph­ics and gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans. What this means is that the VA’s ex­ten­sive study of vet­eran sui­cides and how to pre­vent them can not only make a dif­fer­ence for a vet­eran in cri­sis, but also ben­e­fit the neigh­bor next door or an el­derly friend with­out hope. Our mes­sage to our veter­ans is that if you are in cri­sis, ask for help. If you are not a vet­eran, but need help, there are re­sources avail­able. The Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line, for ex­am­ple, is a na­tional net­work of lo­cal cri­sis cen­ters that pro­vide free and con­fi­den­tial emo­tional sup­port to peo­ple in sui­ci­dal cri­sis or emo­tional dis­tress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For veter­ans or ser­vice mem­bers who feel they have no place to turn, the VA pro­vides univer­sal ac­cess to 24/7 emer­gency care through its emer­gency de­part­ments and the VA’s Veter­ans Cri­sis Line. Since 2007, the VA Cri­sis Line has an­swered more than 2.9 mil­lion calls, dis­patched pri­or­ity ser­vices more than 77,000 times, re­sponded to over 70,000 veter­ans in need via text and chat, and re­ferred 470,000 veter­ans to trained lo­cal VA sui­cide pre­ven­tion co­or­di­na­tors. In ad­di­tion, the VA has strength­ened the Veter­ans Cri­sis Line, dou­bling it in size, open­ing a new hub in At­lanta and us­ing best-in-class busi­ness prac­tices to im­prove ca­pac­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness as a life-sav­ing re­source. Calls to the cri­sis line are now be­ing an­swered within 8 sec­onds.

But much more is needed, and we are ex­pand­ing our sui­cide pre­ven­tion ef­forts, pro­vid­ing greater ac­cess to ser­vices and work­ing to en­sure same-day ac­cess for ur­gent men­tal health needs at ev­ery one of our 168 med­i­cal cen­ters.

We are also con­tin­u­ing to hire more VA men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and are ag­gres­sively us­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide re­mote men­tal health ser­vices. The VA re­cently launched Re­cov­ery En­gage­ment and Co­or­di­na­tion for Health — Veter­ans En­hanced Treat­ment, aka REACH VET, a na­tional ini­tia­tive us­ing pre­dic­tive mod­els to help save veter­ans’ lives. REACH VET an­a­lyzes data from veter­ans’ health records to iden­tify those at a sta­tis­ti­cally el­e­vated risk for sui­cide, hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, ill­ness or ad­verse out­comes. We are ac­tively ex­plor­ing more ef­fec­tive treat­ments and search­ing for new ap­proaches us­ing in­no­va­tive, tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions.

Although the VA is mak­ing progress, the VA can­not fully ad­dress this is­sue alone. Of the 20 veter­ans who die each day by sui­cide, 14 are not con­nected to the VA. This means we have more work to do. Get­ting to zero sui­cides re­quires work­ing to­gether and putting our col­lec­tive arms around any­one we be­lieve is in cri­sis. Pre­vent­ing vet­eran sui­cide is both a shared goal and a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.

If you are a vet­eran or the loved one of a vet­eran ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cri­sis, call 800-273-8255 and press 1, text to 838255, or chat on­line at

“Since 2007, the VA Cri­sis Line has an­swered more than 2.9 mil­lion calls, dis­patched pri­or­ity ser­vices more than 77,000 times, re­sponded to over 70,000 veter­ans in need via text and chat, and re­ferred 470,000 veter­ans to trained lo­cal VA sui­cide pre­ven­tion co­or­di­na­tors.”

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