Tomah VA Medical Center
Director's Message on Suicide Prevention
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 our VA health 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 limits neither 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 our Enrollment/Eligibility Office at (608) 372-3971 or visit www.maketheconnection.net/FindResources.
Let me be clear, no Veteran experience an urgent mental health crisis will be turned away.
VA is continually working to expand and enhance other suicide prevention initiatives as well. We are using innovative screening and assessment programs to identify at risk Veterans, bolstering mental health services for women Veterans, expanding tele-mental health services, deploying free mobile apps to help Veterans and their families, and using telephone coaching to assist families of Veterans. We have also initiated open access scheduling whereby all general mental health providers have unscheduled clinic times to meet with Veterans experiencing an urgent need.
The most important prevention efforts, however, come from those who are closest to the Veteran. Simple acts of kindness and small actions of support are thoughtful ways to show you care. Approaching the subject of suicide with someone you know can seem very difficult, but it is important to start the conversation – and it does not increase the risk of suicide to talk about it. VA has resources to help through our #BeThere campaign (www.bethereforveterans.com). If you are concerned about a Veteran, you or the Veteran can contact the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text to 838255. Reaching out to a Veteran in your life who is experiencing a rough time can make all the difference.