VA is launching national advertising to promote the Be There campaign, starting this week with an advertisement in Times Square and then rolling out nationwide in the coming weeks through a new partnership with PSA Advertising Inc.
Suicide prevention is the top clinical priority for VA, and raising awareness of the resources and information available to Veterans is a key component of VA’s public health approach to preventing suicide. Through the Be There campaign, VA highlights the risk factors and warning signs for suicide, provides information about VA mental health and suicide prevention resources, and helps individuals and organizations start the conversation around Veteran mental health in their communities.
“We recognize that suicide is a complex issue — one that we cannot necessarily end on our own here at VA,” said Wendy Lakso, acting deputy suicide prevention program director for VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. “We need everyone to understand how to be there for the Veterans in their lives.”
Through the partnership with PSA Advertising, VA will gain access to available billboard placements across the country. At the launch of this effort, VA will place ads in the top 100 largest markets to promote both Be There and the Veterans Crisis Line.
VA will also roll out market- and audience-specific advertisements to reach target populations in communities beyond the largest markets. Using data on relevant topics such as firearm ownership, opioid use, Veteran population density and more, VA will identify messages that reflect each community’s specific challenges and potential risk factors and feature Veterans who mirror the local population.
“By promoting the Be There campaign broadly, we aim to reach not only Veterans, but also their family members, friends and other supporters in their communities,” said Lakso. “Our goal is to prevent suicide among Veterans nationwide. To do that, we need to do as much as possible to ensure that everyone knows the role they can play in suicide prevention.”
We can all #BeThere for Veterans. Guided by the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, VA and its partners are helping Veterans and former service members get the right care whenever they need it. By equipping communities with resources and services, VA and its partners can reach all Veterans and former service members and can save lives. Additional resources for supporting Veterans and their loved ones, community partners, and clinicians can be found at www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/resources.asp.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
A Veteran tragically took his own life yesterday at the Cleveland VA Medical Center just outside the facility’s emergency department.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this death,” the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System said in a statement. “Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.”
The facility cited privacy concerns when asked to provide additional details about the suicide. The immediate response is not unlike that of other facilities where Veterans committed suicide on agency property including two suicides in Atlanta and the third in Texas.
Gary Pressley, 29, shot himself in a parking lot with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Olen Hancock, 68, shot himself and died the following day. A third Veteran shot himself in a VA waiting room located in Austin, TX.
“Every one of these is a gut-wrenching experience for our 24,000 mental health providers and all of us that work for VA,” Richard Stone, MD, of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) said at the time. Dr. Stone is the Executive in Charge for VHA.
Congresswoman Speaks On Ohio Suicide
“I am heartbroken following the suicide of a Veteran outside the Cleveland VA this morning,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH). “The level of pain that brings someone to suicide is fortunately unimaginable to many of us. My sincere condolences and prayers are with the Veteran’s family and friends during this immensely difficult time.”
“The fact that 20 Veterans a day take their own life – over 7,000 a year – is a tragedy. With seven incidents of Veteran suicide on VA property in 2019 alone, 25 in the last 18 months, it’s critical we do more to stop this sustained national crisis. That is why I am working closely with my colleagues in the House and Senate to take decisive action to investigate and bring to an end the epidemic of Veteran suicide.”
Veteran Suicide Data
Over 6,000 Veterans have committed suicide since 2016. After the recent suicides, VA reiterated that suicide prevention is VA’s top clinical priority.
“The sad thing that we confront every day is that of the 20 Veteran suicides that occur across the country 14 of those Veterans are outside of our department,” Wilkie said.
“What I’ve envisioned is the opening of the aperture to the states and localities to get them resources to find those Veterans. One of the tragedies is that many of those Veterans who take their lives come from my father’s era – Vietnam. So we have Americans whose problems in many cases began building when Lyndon Johnson was president. We have to tackle this issue in a way that we haven’t tackled it before.”
Is It A ‘Sad Thing’ To Be Outside VA?
One theme that keeps coming up is the VA’s argument that 2/3 of Veteran suicides are by Veterans not receiving health care from VA. Somehow, the argument goes, VA will reduce Veteran suicides by pushing all Veterans into the VA system.
Here’s the thing.
Most Veterans do not receive health care from VA, around 2/3. So, it makes sense that around 2/3 of the Veterans committing suicide are outside the VA system.
Is that fact alone a bad thing?
On its face, the numbers seem to suggest a Veteran is at least as likely to commit suicide who uses VA health care services as a Veteran who does not use those same services.
So, is pushing all Veterans into the VA for health care the answer to Veteran suicide?
It seems unlikely.
About VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System
The Cleveland VA Medical Center serves over 110,000 Veterans. It is part of the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, which is part of VISN 10 that serves 685,000 Veterans throughout Michigan, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Indiana.
If you are reading this and experiencing mental health struggles, you are invited to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
However, please note that some Veterans who call the hotline report that they receive visits from police shortly after calls.
Richard Stone, the Department of Veterans Affairs executive in charge, poked a hole in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's claim the agency is not fully funded.
Stone was asked Monday during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the trend of Veterans committing suicide and, specifically, addressing the recent number of Veterans committing suicide on VA property.
"I think having sat through the last couple hours here with me, you understand, well understand very well my answer. This is not a financial problem," said Stone. "This is a problem of the society that we live in. And this is about the interpersonal connections that we each have, to each other as a society.
"I can hire another 20,000 mental health providers and what I can say to you is that people in crisis will get great care. And they will come in or be seen in the same day as they are today," Stone said. "I can hire additional people for at risk, but this is about moving to the left, moving towards the fact that we need to reduce risk. And it goes back to your colleagues’ comments earlier about whole health and identifying what connects us as humans, to other humans, and finding stabilization, as a society, that is much different than it was for those Veterans that came home 30, 40, and 50 years ago."
During the hearing, the VA officials noted how of the more than 20 Veterans who commit suicide every day, only a fraction of them are receiving care through the VA, with a majority never accessing the resources available to them.
The hearing took place hours after a Veteran committed suicide at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, according to Fox 8.
After the hearing, Stone told the Washington Examiner the issue of Veteran suicide is a multifaceted one that money alone cannot solve.
"Ten years ago we had a $4 billion budget for mental health, today I have an $8.9 billion budget for mental health," he said. "I've doubled the number of mental health providers over these years, but yet we haven't changed the suicide rate. What I'm saying this is not just about adding more personnel. Certainly we can always add more personnel and we can go move from one to two day wait time for mental health."
When asked by another reporter what the VA needs from Congress right now, instead of saying money, Stone said the bureaucracy needs be clearer and faster on certain issues.
"No. 1, we need clarity on the never-activated guardsmen and reservists: Are they Veterans or aren't they Veterans? Should they be allowed to come in?" he said. "Our option is, we're here. We have an established system. These are people who had served in uniform. The fact they just weren't activated shouldn't keep them from coming in."
Stone said it takes too long to build new intake centers, as approval can take four to seven years before construction begins: "We need to be much more agile in that."
Stone's comments are in stark contrast to New York Democrat Ocasio-Cortez's insistence that the VA is not fully funded, at least when it comes to preventing Veteran suicide.
The VA's budget is more than $200 billion. The department has requested a total of $220.2 billion for fiscal 2020, a 9.6% increase from the previous fiscal year.
A military Veteran took his own life outside the Cleveland VA Medical Center early Monday, according to officials.
The VA Northeast Ohio Health Care System said in a statement that “our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this death.”
The suicide comes after three Veterans took their lives in a five-day span in Georgia and Texas earlier this month.
Gary Pressley, 29, was found in the parking lot of a Georgia facility with a gunshot wound on April 5. Olen Hancock, 68, shot himself near Atlanta and was pronounced dead the following day, and another Veteran shot himself in a VA waiting room and died on April 9.
“Every one of these is a gut-wrenching experience for our 24,000 mental health providers and all of us that work for VA,” Richard Stone of the Veterans Health Administration said at the time.
More than 6,000 Veterans committed suicide in 2016, according to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA officials said in January that suicide prevention is the organization’s “top clinical priority.” More than 2 million Veterans sought and received help for mental health issues through the VA in 2017.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said earlier this month that ways must be found to combat homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness among Veterans.
“The sad thing that we confront every day is that of the 20 Veteran suicides that occur across the country 14 of those Veterans are outside of our department,” Wilkie said.
“What I’ve envisioned is the opening of the aperture to the states and localities to get them resources to find those Veterans. One of the tragedies is that many of those Veterans who take their lives come from my father’s era - Vietnam. So we have Americans whose problems in many cases began building when Lyndon Johnson was president. We have to tackle this issue in a way that we haven’t tackled it before.”
Officials urge Veterans and concerned relatives to contact the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 if they need assistance.
Not sure where to start or what to do or say? Read on
Year-round, VA empowers communities to take action to support our nation’s Veterans. Each community across the country plays a role in supporting Veterans, but as an individual you may not know what to do or where to start.
You don’t need to have special training to support the Veterans in your life, and we can all do something to help a Veteran who is going through a difficult time. Even seemingly small actions can have a huge impact: preventing suicide begins with just the willingness to Be There.
Showing your support can be as simple as sending a Veteran a text message — inviting someone over to catch up or sharing a positive thought are both great ways to communicate that you care.
Your words could be exactly what a Veteran in crisis needs to hear and could be a reminder of the many people out there who are willing to listen.
Here are some sample text messages:
- “Hey Tom, haven’t seen you around in a while! We should grab coffee this week. How about tomorrow?”
- “Just letting you know I’m here for you if you need anything. Call me anytime!”
- “Hey Amy, hope all is well with you! Been thinking about you today. I miss you!”
When you sense that a Veteran is not doing well, your words can help. You can make a difference by just starting a conversation. Although it can seem challenging, it is important to talk about difficult feelings and experiences.
Keep in mind: asking questions about thoughts of suicide does not increase a person’s suicide risk. Instead, an open conversation can help someone feel less alone and let others into the Veteran’s experience — and feeling connected is shown to reduce suicide risk.
Keep these best practices in mind when preparing for a conversation:
- Show that you are really listening. Remember to maintain eye contact and turn in toward the Veteran while they are speaking.
- Validate the Veteran’s experience. Even if you can’t relate to what a Veteran is experiencing, you can tell them you understand that they went through something difficult and show that you respect their feelings about it.
- Let them decide how much information to share. Supportive and encouraging comments, rather than invasive personal questions, will create a space for open communication and avoid putting a Veteran on the defensive.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the question. When you are concerned about suicide risk, it’s OK to ask people if they have ever thought about hurting themselves or take action to prepare for suicide. The answers can help you consider next steps to take.
Simply reaching out to a Veteran in need and opening the door for a discussion could make all the difference.
Learn more ways to show your support and Be There by visiting VeteransCrisisLine.net/BeThere to find more resources and information.
A House Democrat is introducing legislation on Thursday aimed at addressing an uptick in Veteran suicides at Department of Veteran's Affairs facilities. In five days this month alone, three Veterans took their lives at VA facilities, including one who died by suicide in a crowded Austin, Texas, waiting room last week.
The legislation will be introduced by Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., an Army combat Veteran and member of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee. It calls for "substantive data" from the VA regarding the trend in Veteran suicides at VA facilities.
"Getting this data more quickly and thoroughly would guide Congress' efforts in understanding this crisis, and preventing these tragedies," Rose said. "We must ensure all Veterans have the services they need when they need them, plain and simple."
The legislation would require the VA to notify Congress of any suicide or suicide attempt and the name of the VA facility and location where the event occurred, no later than seven days after it happens. Sixty days after the event, the VA would be required to provide even more information to Congress, including the enrollment status of the Veteran, with respect to the patient enrollment system at the VA, and the most recent encounter between the Veteran and any employee or facility of the Veterans Health Administration before the suicide or attempted suicide occurred.
VA press secretary Curt Cashour said the VA has not yet taken a position on the bill, but that the department has been transparent about suicide and suicide attempts. He also cited a study that showed Veteran suicides occur less frequently on VA campuses than on non-VA campuses.
It's estimated that 20 Veterans die of suicide each day, 14 of whom are outside the VA system. According to VA officials, the department has tracked 260 suicide attempts at VA facilities since beginning to track them in 2017, with 240 of those having been interrupted.
Cashour would not discuss the specific cases of suicides at VA facilities this month, but said, "Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by these deaths."
"Any time an unexpected death occurs at a VA facility, the department conducts a comprehensive review of the case to see if changes in policies and procedures are warranted. All VA facilities provide same-day urgent primary and mental health care serves to Veterans who need them," Cashour said.
"Veteran suicide is a national public health crisis that we need to address -- that's why the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs has made it a top priority," said Committee Chairman Mark Takano. "Congress can help develop a response to these tragedies, but we have to know what's happening. I'm proud to support this bill to ensure Congress gets the data it needs as quickly as possible so we can work together to prevent these incidents and give Veterans in crisis the support they desperately need."
In addition to Rose's legislation, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., put forth a bill last month that would boost funding and mental health staff at the VA, as well as seek alternative therapies and research to address Veteran suicide. Also last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which tasked agency officials with developing a strategy to aggressively tackle the issue of Veteran suicide.
But one leading Veterans group has called for a multi-agency investigation into what they're calling a "suicide epidemic among Veterans and service members," concerned that the White House initiative would take "at least a year to establish and launch into action."
American Veterans, asked the inspectors general of the VA, Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to immediately launch the joint investigation following the latest deaths at VA facilities.
Between October 2017 and November 2018, there were 19 suicides on VA campuses -- seven in parking lots -- according to AMVETS.
AMVETS Executive Director Joseph Chenelly said that suicides at VA facilities "appear to be protests of last resort where health care systems, treatment programs, and the underlying cultures of the responsible federal agencies have failed them."
The VA's Fiscal Year 2020 budget request calls for $222 million for suicide prevention programs.
Any Veteran, family member, or friend concerned about a Veteran's mental health can contact the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255.
Veterans group calls for multi-agency investigation after 3 Vets killed themselves at VA facilities in 5-day span
A Veterans group is calling for a multi-agency investigation into what they're calling a "suicide epidemic among Veterans and service members," after three Veterans killed themselves at Veterans Affairs facilities in the span of five days this month.
American Veterans (AMVETS), asked the inspectors general of the VA, Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to immediately launch "a joint, coordinated investigation into the Veteran and service member suicide epidemic, to include a macro evaluation of mental health treatment programs and personnel assigned to operate them."
In five days this month alone, three Veterans took their lives at VA facilities, including a Veteran who died by suicide in a crowded Austin, Texas VA clinic waiting room last week. Between October 2017 and November 2018, there were 19 suicides that occurred on VA campuses -- seven of which were in parking lots -- according to AMVETS.
AMVETS Executive Director Joseph Chenelly wrote in a letter last week that, "the fact that Veteran suicides in VA parking lots, on VA campuses, and on military bases are becoming increasingly commonplace offers cold comfort to any claims of progress."
Chenelly said that suicides at VA facilities "appear to be protests of last resort where health care systems, treatment programs, and the underlying cultures of the responsible federal agencies have failed them."
A spokesperson for the VA said that, due to privacy concerns, they would not discuss the specifics of the recent cases.
"Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by these deaths," VA spokesperson Curtis Cashour said. "Any time an unexpected death occurs at a VA facility, the department conducts a comprehensive review of the case to see if changes in policies and procedures are warranted. All VA facilities provide same-day urgent primary and mental health care serves to Veterans who need them."
It's estimated that 20 Veterans die of suicide each day, 14 of whom are outside the VA system.
The VA's Fiscal Year 2020 budget request calls for $222 million for suicide prevention programs. But lawmakers and the White House have recently introduced new ways to combat the epidemic.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., put forth a bill last month that would boost funding and mental health staff at the VA, as well as seek alternative therapies and research to address Veteran suicide. Also last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which tasked agency officials with developing a strategy to aggressively tackle the issue of Veteran suicide.
In his letter, Chenelly said AMVETS supports the executive order, but he expressed concerns that the initiative would take "at least a year to establish and launch into action."
"A joint investigation through your respective offices will serve as a stopgap that will shed light on why military and Veterans suicides have reached crisis proportions as these lives continue to be lost on a daily basis," he told the inspectors general.
According to VA officials, the department has tracked 260 suicide attempts at VA facilities since beginning to track them in 2017, 240 of which have been interrupted.
The VA encourages any Veteran, family member, or friend concerned about a Veteran's mental health to contact the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255.
Just days after his release from a VA hospital in Palo Alto, California, Army Veteran Terry O'Hearn took his own life.
WASHINGTON, DC — Terry O'Hearn came into the world a fighter, his mother, Robin, says.
But after serving in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, she says, he changed.
"He wasn't as happy-go-lucky," she said. "He seemed to pull back from all of us."
O'Hearn battled post-traumatic stress disorder for years. In 2016, he put a homemade shotgun to his chest and fired. He survived, spending the next few weeks in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Sacramento, California.
As her son recovered, Robin worried what he would do when he left the VA hospital. She says she begged the hospital to keep him. "He's isolated himself," she remembers saying. "Please do not let him go. Do not let him go home alone."
He stayed in the hospital for a total of two weeks. Just days after his release, O'Hearn, 30, took his own life.
Veterans' suicides, like O'Hearn's, are an ongoing crisis. Every day, 20 U.S. Veterans die by suicide, according to VA statistics. The VA estimated that Veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as other members of the public. Their rate of suicide is increasing, just as it is rising among the general population.
Some Veterans die by suicide at the very hospitals designed to help them. This month, three Veterans took their own lives at VA facilities in just five days.
One Veteran shot himself in a busy waiting room at an Austin, Texas, clinic. Two others took their lives at VA centers in Georgia.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 260 suicide attempts at VA facilities, according to the agency, though a vast majority of those attempts — 240 — were thwarted.
In a statement, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said, "Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by these deaths. Due to patient privacy concerns, we will not be discussing the specifics of these cases."
RESOURCES FOR VETERANS
But there are resources for Veterans, like the VA's crisis hotline. Eighty Veterans a day use the hotline, established in 2007, in search of emergency help. The hotline added a third call center in 2018.
The Trump administration has also tried to address the uptick in Veterans' suicides.
In March, President Donald Trump established a new Veteran suicide prevention task force through executive order, calling it "a tragedy of staggering proportions."
"They kept us safe, and we're going to keep them safe," he said.
The task force is expected to produce a report on the issue within a year.
A year earlier, Trump had signed an executive order that provided new Veterans with mental health care for at least a year after they leave the military.
Meanwhile, O'Hearn's mother says her mission now is to help other military families. A Veteran herself, she served eight years in the Air Force, leaving as a staff sergeant. She wants to educate other families about how to navigate the VA process and how to recognize the symptoms of PTSD.
"I want people that are in the position that we were in to understand the process," she said. "So that maybe they could intervene. I wish that we could have intervened at some point."
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
WASHINGTON — Three Veterans killed themselves last week on Department of Veterans Affairs health care properties, barely a month after President Trump announced an aggressive task force to address the unremitting problem of Veteran suicide.
Mr. Trump’s executive order was a tacit acknowledgment of what the deaths rendered obvious: The department has not made a dent in stemming the approximately 20 suicide deaths every day among Veterans, about one and a half times more often than those who have not served in the military, according to the most recent statistics available from the department.
A 2015 measure that required officials to provide annual reviews of mental health care and suicide prevention programs has found that Veterans often receive good mental health care at many Department of Veterans Affairs centers — but that has not decreased suicide rates. A relatively new program, known as the Mayor’s Challenge, that helps city and state governments reach more Veterans through more public health programs via Veterans Affairs partnerships has shown some promise, but no data exists yet demonstrating suicide reductions.
While the V.A. has been the public face of the issue, Veterans are in many ways an amplification of the same factors that drive suicide in the broader American population: a fragmented health care system, a shortage of mental health resources, especially in rural areas, a lack of funding for suicide research and easy access to guns. All of these contribute to the drastically increased suicide rate among all Americans, which rose 33 percent from 1999 to 2017.
High rates of homelessness, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and a military culture that can be resistant to seeking help are all aggravating factors for Veterans, whose rates of suicide have been the subject of numerous hearings on Capitol Hill.
“We are not even at the Sputnik stage of understanding problems with mental health,” said Robert Wilkie, the secretary of Veterans affairs. “I have said this is the No. 1 clinical priority that is made manifest by the president putting V.A. as the lead for this national task force.”
Some programs to address Veteran suicide are showing promise.
A study of nine V.A. emergency rooms found 45 percent fewer suicidal behaviors among patients who received follow-up outreach after suicide attempts; as a result of this study, all V.A. medical centers have put into place the Safety Planning Intervention program.
Since the department in 2017 began tracking suicides at Veterans Affairs facilities — among the most high-profile of Veteran suicides — there have been more than 260 suicide attempts, 240 of which have been interrupted, department officials say.
Yet about 70 percent of Veterans do not regularly use the V.A., access to a federal department that may be viewed as central to suicide prevention.
“The vast majority of Veterans that die by suicide are not seeking services,” said Julie Cerel, a professor at the University of Kentucky and president of the American Association of Suicidology. “So the V.A.s are kind of at a loss of how to serve this group of people. Yet when they do end their lives, it becomes the responsibility of the V.A.,” in the viewpoint of critics, she said.
Leadership turmoil — a consistent trait of the Trump administration — has complicated the V.A.’s attempt to address suicide. The agency’s director of its prevention office, Caitlin Thompson, resigned in 2017 after tangling with political appointees. According to a Government Accountability Office report last year, the office has essentially languished. Most notably, the office spent $57,000 of its $6.2 million media budget, and its presence on social media declined 77 percent from the levels of 2015, the report found. Lawmakers expressed outrage.
Although Veterans Affairs officials blamed miscommunication at the time, Keita Franklin, the department’s new executive director of suicide prevention, said that the program had been delayed to come up with a more targeted marketing campaign, called #BeThere. It will try to “talk more specifically with targeted audiences,” she said, noting campaigns focused on 18- to 24-year-olds might focus on texting a friend in trouble while the over-60 crowd would be encouraged to have coffee. Some advertisements would be honed for women, for example, or for Veterans in rural communities.
Yet myriad political, structural and cultural impediments exist far beyond the administration’s walls.
Many suicide experts believe that a lack of proper training in suicide prevention in the broader mental health field, hobbled by a lack of research into a matter that has stymied so many public health officials, is central to the issue.
In 2017, the suicide rate in the United States reached 14 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death. Yet only $68 million is expected to be spent on suicide research this year, according to the National Institutes of Health. In comparison, breast cancer will receive about $709 million in research funding and $243 million is expected to be spent this year researching prostate cancer.
“There has been tremendous research on breast cancer and AIDS, which lowered mortality rates on diseases we once thought once insurmountable,” Dr. Cerel said. “However, we have not had comparable research into suicide.”
Guns are used in the majority of Veteran suicides, in large part because gun ownership is high for that group. Last year, about 80 percent of suicides among Veterans in Montana were by firearms, said Claire R. Oakley, the director of health promotion at RiverStone Health, a community provider attached to the Mayor’s Challenge in Billings, Mont., which has had among the highest rates of suicide in the nation.
“Awareness is important but it does take funding and there is no capacity funding to do this work,” she said, noting that volunteers had filled many of the gaps.
Proper storage techniques and training friends and family to know when to try to remove guns from vulnerable Veterans are still lacking. Lawmakers who move to reduce gun access to suicidal Veterans often face resistance.
“By reducing access to firearms you see a drop right away,” said Jane Pearson, chairwoman of the Suicide Research Consortium at the National Institute of Mental Health. “We have to think of a way forward that is fair, that does not take away weapons unfairly.”
Several states have enacted “extreme risk protection order” laws, which help law enforcement and family members temporarily remove guns from, or prohibit their purchases by, people who may be a threat to themselves.
Perhaps most vexing is a military culture that emphasizes discipline and perseverance, which can backfire when a Veteran is suicidal.
“People who join the military have this sense of boot straps, ‘I can do it,’” Dr. Franklin said. “Then you become a Vet and they say come in and get mental health care, and inwardly they don’t feel good doing it.”
Mr. Trump’s executive order would also task multiple federal agencies — like the Agriculture Department in rural areas — to pitch in on Veteran suicide prevention and to give grants to local governments to work with health care partners to better reach Veterans.
“There is no single cause of suicide,” Dr. Franklin said. “When we pull a thread, we see a complex situation with 25 factors playing. We can’t prevent suicide from where we sit in the V.A. by ourselves.”
Allowing local governments to join with health care providers has also shown promise. The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, for instance, works through 10 regional coalitions to provide Veterans with mental health services as well as things like entrepreneurship training.
A major complication is reaching the Veterans to start. Many use both V.A. and community providers; providers outside the system have varied forms of insurance coverage.
“There are a lot of things the V.A. have done right,” Dr. Pearson said. “The issue is the challenge in our health care system with people jumping from one system to another.”
The Mayor’s and Governor’s Challenges — which team governments with community health care providers to better reach and service Veterans — show promise in connecting Veterans to needed services inside and outside the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Brent Arnspiger, the suicide prevention coordinator for the Michael E. DeBakey V.A. Medical Center in Houston, works with a local provider to send Veterans who are not eligible for V.A. services to that provider’s facilities, and vice versa. “We have a warm handoff instead of just giving someone a phone number,” he said. “In the last three months, we have given 30 consults there,” he said of the health centers, “and they brought five to us.”
Other states are eagerly embracing the same challenge. “The Commonwealth of Virginia has one of the largest populations of Veterans, service members and their families in the nation,” said Carlos Hopkins, the Virginia secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, “which gives us a particularly keen awareness of the importance of tackling this national epidemic head on.”
WASHINGTON — Three suicides occurred during a five-day period on Department of Veterans Affairs properties, prompting reaction this week from Capitol Hill.
Two Veterans died by suicide in Georgia, one April 5 at a parking garage at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin and the other April 6 outside the main entrance to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
On Tuesday, a Veteran shot himself in the waiting room at a VA clinic in Austin, Texas, according to KWCX-TV.
“Those deaths did not go by me without noticing them, nor has it gone by me that we have a job to do,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Wednesday during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.
Though it wasn’t the intended subject of the hearing, multiple senators asked VA officials on Wednesday about the recent suicides.
Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said there have been more than 260 suicide attempts on VA property, 240 of which were interrupted and prevented. He didn’t specify a time period for the attempts.
According to a Washington Post report, 19 suicides occurred on VA property between October 2017 and November 2018.
“Every one of these is a gut-wrenching experience for our 24,000 mental health providers and all of us that work for VA,” Stone said.
In response to reports of the three suicides, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he would schedule a hearing on the issue later this month.
“Every new instance of Veteran suicide showcases a barrier to access, but with three incidents on VA property in just five days, and six this year alone, it’s critical we do more to stop this epidemic,” Takano said in a statement. “I have called for a full committee hearing… to hear from VA about the recent tragedies and spark a larger discussion about what actions we can take together as a nation.”
According to the latest VA data, 20 Veterans die by suicide every day. Of those deaths, 14 are not receiving VA health care.
Suicide among Veterans continues to be higher than the rest of the population, and younger Veterans are particularly at risk. VA data released in September showed the rate of suicide among Veterans ages 18 to 34 had significantly increased.
The VA hasn’t identified the Veterans who died by suicide in Georgia, nor described the circumstances of the deaths. In Austin, a still-unidentified Veteran shot himself in front of hundreds of people in the waiting room, KWTX reported. Weapons are prohibited in VA clinics, but the Austin facility didn’t have metal detectors.
Stone told senators Wednesday that Veteran suicide was a societal problem that needed a nationwide approach. He noted an executive order that President Donald Trump signed in March creating a Cabinet-level task force that he promised would “mobilize every level of American society” to address Veteran suicide. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was selected to lead it.
“I wish it was as simple as me saying I could do more patrols in a parking lot that would stop this epidemic,” Stone said. “Where we as a community and society have failed that Veteran is a very complex answer.”