Preventing veteran suicides a top priority

IRON MOUNTAIN — On Veterans Day we celebrate the service, sacrifice, and enduring achievements of over 21 million living Americans who served our nation in uniform so that we may enjoy the freedoms we cherish so much. On Nov. 1, President Trump proclaimed November as Veterans and Military Families Month honoring our veterans all month long, not just on Veterans Day. However, for the men and women of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center and its community based outpatient clinics, every day is Veterans Day as we are privileged to serve and care for over 20,000 men and women who have served in the armed forces.

Today, we are confronted with the sad reality that 20 veterans on average commit suicide each day. Fourteen of those 20 veterans do not receive VA health care, and of the six that do, only three use VA’s mental health services and programs.

Suicide prevention is the VA’s top clinical priority. It is one of the reasons VA recently lifted restrictions on providing urgent mental health care for those veterans discharged under than honorable conditions, estimated at a little more than 500,000 veterans. A discharge for other than honorable conditions typically prevents veterans from receiving VA healthcare.

The VA, however, cannot tackle this problem alone. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business. We believe it is important for us to partner with our veterans, their families, community organizations, and the public to reach those veterans who need help and do not realize the services they need are close by.

One resource is VA’s 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line, which Veterans can call at 800-273-8255 (press 1). Since its launch in 2007 through September 2017, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered over 3.1 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in imminent crisis over 82,000 times. Since launching chat in 2009 and text services in November 2011, the VCL has answered nearly 365,000 and over 82,000 requests for chat and text services respectively. Crisis Line staff have forwarded nearly 525,000 referrals to local VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators on behalf of Veterans to ensure continuity of care with Veterans local VA providers.

For more information on how you can help a Veteran in need use #BeThere (www.VeteransCrisisLine.net/BeThere). This November is an opportunity to thank veterans in our communities for their service and sacrifice. Helping a veteran in crisis provides them the ultimate honor.

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James W. Rice is the medical center director of the Oscar G. Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iron Mountain.

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