Preventing veteran suicides: Getting to zero
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.”