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The job of preventing suicides one case at a time

Suicides One Case


Two life savers proud to know they do make a difference

Lynn Worley (L) and Carrie Musselwhite (R) are Suicide Prevention Coordinators for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System (GCVHCS). Worley is stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Musselwhite works at the Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola, Florida.

Serving on the front line of VA’s number one clinical priority requires a special brand of dedication to a demanding task.

And both ladies have it.

Worley: “My job is to help those who have served and get them the access to whatever care they need.”

Musselwhite: “My dream job of helping Veterans is a very humbling experience.”

They monitor the services for Veterans designated as “high risk for suicide” and are transitional coordinators of care for these patients.

They perform expert crisis consultation, assessment, intervention, safety planning, and outreach for Veterans.

Worley has 30 years of mental health social worker experience and joined VA four years ago as the Suicide Prevention Coordinator.

“My father, who died in 2014, was an Army Veteran. I have aunts, uncles and cousins who are Veterans. It’s in my nature to give back and help those who have served.”

Worley and Musselwhite also manage and respond to referrals from the National Veterans Crisis Line.

They assist VA health care providers with treatment plans for patients to ensure that care is coordinated, collaborative, and integrated within the medical center.

Musselwhite also talks about her family when discussing her motivation. “My father was in the Army-Air Corps and I have many relatives who are Veterans. I get a great sense of satisfaction from helping to save lives.

“The attack on 9/11 happened while I was a senior in high school. A lot of my friends with scholarships to college had everything going for them but decided to serve their country.

“And many of them didn’t come back the same. Because I didn’t serve, I wanted to be able to help in a different way.”

While all their cases are critical and important, some require an extra amount of attention and coordination.

Lots of staff and a huge effort

Just one case study of the efforts taken by VA to help Veterans in crisis involved a young combat Veteran with numerous issues.

Worley: “After his tour of combat duty, he had PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and significant addiction problems which started before he joined the Army. This complicated everything and brings the whole team into action.

“He was in and out of the acute psychiatric unit and just when we thought he was stabilized and ready to be outside, he had a relapse and had to be readmitted.

“This is an example of an intense effort by our case management program. It took lots of staff and required a huge effort all the way around.

“We knew he needed a longer-term VA residential programs and his case manager flew with him to make sure he got there.”

With a smile of relief and fighting a tear, Worley added that she has high hopes for him that this was going to be the turning point.

Musselwhite remembers one episode while she was training at a local hospital. She visited with a Veteran patient who had never been registered with VA. “He had three combat tours and was only 24. And he didn’t think he was a Veteran. He thought you had to be career or retired. I was glad we got him enrolled…and got him going.”

A regular assignment for the two ladies is training clinical and non-clinical staff on Suicide Prevention with information on risk factors, warning signs and treatment options.

They also manage and respond to referrals from the National Veterans Crisis Line.

When necessary, they assist with crisis management of new and existing patients.

And they explain the importance of VA’s suicide prevention programs with presentations to community social service agencies, military Guard and Reserve units, and Veteran Service Organizations.

What’s it like having a job like this?

Musselwhite smiles and adds, “Well, when you tell people your job, their usual reaction is, ‘Oh my goodness, how do you do that? Are you really going to make a difference? Oh, I could never do that.’

“I just remind them that you or I could be that person on the side of the road or that person struggling. To help save someone’s life and then be able to tell a family member, their children or their spouse, that their loved one is safe – that’s how I can do this.”

Worley agrees: “That’s the reaction I get. ‘Well thank you for what you do. Thank goodness we have you because we need you. There are Veterans out there who need help.’

“That’s reaffirming. We know – individually – that we do make a difference.

“What gives me a sense of satisfaction is just being there for someone and having that therapeutic relationship. That in and of itself makes a difference.

“Things don’t just get better overnight. A lot of the work we do is planting seeds. The other side of the rainbow is a little ways off sometimes.”


VA launches community-focused public health model to prevent Veteran suicide

Suicide Prevention 3


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (OMHSP) and VA Midwest Health Care Network (Veterans Integrated Service Network [VISN] 23) have been working with academic researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) to spearhead a community-based program as one of many efforts aimed at lowering the rate of Veteran suicide.

Aligned with the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, the program, which began in early 2019, is designed to increase community involvement within VISN 23 by leveraging the reach and impact of local stakeholders.

“We recognize that just as suicide has no single determining cause, no single agency can prevent Veteran suicide,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “In working with our partners on this pilot program, we are adding new opportunities to provide our Veterans with whole-health solutions before they reach a point of crisis.”

Charged with carrying out the program’s multiple objectives, VISN 23 has deployed 10 education and outreach specialists, who have received formal training from VA leadership and PERU on how to:

  • Assess community readiness for increased engagement efforts.
  • Build local coalitions to facilitate wider and more frequent touchpoints with Veterans.
  • Use community-specific public health data to tailor interventions to population needs.
  • Provide metrics on program effectiveness to inform national implementation strategy.

Learn more about VA’s suicide prevention resources and programs here. Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at

Media covering this issue can download VA’s Safe Messaging Best Practices fact sheet or visit for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide.


Veterans and suicide risk: The warning signs — and how to get help

Suicide 001


The suicides of at least four military Veterans at Veterans Affairs facilities last month has captured the attention of advocates and members of Congress. According to data released by the VA, there were more than 6,000 Veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. Data published in 2017 found the risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among Veterans.

The recent suicides come after President Trump signed an executive order in March mandating a Veteran suicide prevention task force.

A combination of individual, relationship, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide, health officials say. Mental illness, including depression and anxiety, is also a risk factor for suicide. But it's important to remember there isn't just one cause.

"A lot of very smart people are looking at this and saying it's multifactorial. We don't really understand why there's such an increase," CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook said on "CBS This Morning" last June, after the suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. "One of the things we keep coming back to when these surprising events happen is you never know what is in somebody's head."

Warning signs of suicide

Health officials recommend that everyone familiarize themselves with the warning signs of suicide, which may include:

  • A person thinking about or threatening suicide or seeking a way to kill themself.
  • Increased substance abuse.
  • Feelings of purposelessness, anxiety, being trapped, or hopeless.
  • Social isolation and withdrawing from people and activities.
  • Expressing unusual anger, recklessness, or mood changes.

Health officials also warn about the possibility of "suicide contagion" — meaning that people who are exposed to a suicide or attempted suicide within their family or friend group, or who hear about it in the media, may be at greater risk of suicide themselves.

How to get help for yourself or a loved one

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or thinking about suicide, talk to someone who can help, such as a trusted loved one, your doctor, your licensed mental health professional if you already have one, or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.

If you believe your loved one or friend is at risk of suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek help from a doctor or the nearest hospital emergency department or dial 911. It's important to remove access to firearms, medications, or any other potential tools they might use to harm themselves.

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.

The Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990, is confidential, free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. People can also text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Veterans can also talk with a trained counselor through the Veterans Crisis Line. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone, or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder. Or visit if you are an active duty service member, guardsman or reservist.

Talking about suicide risk

If you are concerned a loved one is at risk of suicide, talk to them about it. Experts say you shouldn't be afraid to raise the issue.

"People tend to tip-toe around sensitive issues like suicide. You shouldn't. You're not going to prompt someone to do it by asking them," Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, told "CBS This Morning."

If you're worried about how to start the conversation, Lieberman offered some suggestions.

Say things like "I noticed you've been looking down, or I've noticed you've said things that seem like you're really not as motivated towards life," he said.

Then ask if there is a problem or if there's anything they want to talk about.

"If they say something like 'I feel like my life is really empty,' say 'we need to get help,'" Lieberman said.



This week in Congress: Vets suicides in the spotlight

Vets Suicides


Congress returns from its spring break to a flurry of defense and Veterans hearings, including a rare Monday evening event focused on preventing Veterans suicide.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing comes amid concerns over a series of suicides on VA medical facility campuses earlier this month, and will feature tough questions for department officials from both sides of the political aisle.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will appear before Congress again, this time to defend the White House’s fiscal 2020 budget request to the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday morning.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider nominations for the new Chief of Naval Operations, Marine Corps Commandant and Army Chief of Staff over a series of hearings this week.

Monday, April 29

House Veterans' Affairs — 7 p.m. — 1334 Longworth

Suicide prevention

VA and outside experts will testify on department suicide prevention efforts.

Tuesday, April 30

House Appropriations — 9 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn

Homeland Security budget

Homeland Security officials will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen


The committee will consider the nominations of Adm. William Moran to be Chief of Naval Operations and Lt. Gen. David Berger to be Commandant of the Marine Corps.

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2253 Rayburn

Pending legislation

The subcommittee on health will consider several pending bills.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn

Kosovo wartime victims

Atifete Jahjaga, former president of the Republic of Kosovo, will testify on war crimes in the Kosovo conflict.

House Appropriations — 11 a.m. — H-140 Capitol

Navy/Marine Corps Budget

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

House Foreign Affairs — 1:30 p.m. — 2172 Rayburn

Global terrorism

Outside experts will testify on worldwide extremist threats.

House Veterans' Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2253 Rayburn

VA budget

Department officials will testify before the economic opportunity subcommittee on Veterans benefits and budgeting issues.

House Armed Services — 2 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn

Military medical malpractice

Victims of military malpractice incidents and outside experts will testify on potential legal changes regarding the Feres doctrine.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — 2200 Rayburn

UN peacekeeping

Outside experts will testify on United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Senate Appropriations — 2:30 p.m. — 124 Dirksen

VA budget

Department officials will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request for VA.

Wednesday, May 1

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn

Defense budget

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

House Armed Services — 10 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn

North/South America

Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, and Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — 2172 Rayburn


Outside experts will testify on Russian aggression and U.S. national security responses.

Senate Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 192 Dirksen

Navy/Marine Corps Budget

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller will testify on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10:15 a.m. — 419 Dirksen


Actor Ben Stiller and outside experts will testify on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

House Veterans' Affairs — 2 p.m. — 1334 Longworth

Pending legislation

The subcommittee on disability assistance will consider several pending bills.

House Armed Services — 2 p.m. — 2118 Rayburn

Army modernization

Service officials will testify on future modernization plans and the fiscal 2020 budget request.

House Armed Services — 2:30 p.m. — 2212 Rayburn

Military construction programs

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon will testify before the committee on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Senate Armed Services — 2:30 p.m. — 222 Russell

Nuclear weapons

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Ellen Lord and other defense officials will testify on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Senate Appropriations — 2:30 p.m. — 192 Dirksen

NASA budget

NASA officials will testify before the committee on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Thursday, May 2

House Armed Services — 9 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn

Air Force modernization

Service officials will testify on Air Force modernization plans and the fiscal 2020 budget request.

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen


The committee will review the nomination of Gen. James McConville to become Chief of Staff of the Army.

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 1300 Longworth

Women Veterans

VA officials and outside advocates will testify on barriers to women’s health care access at the department.


Recent series of campus suicides raise complicated questions for VA

VA Bay Pines Medical


Despite three suicides in six days on Veterans Affairs campuses earlier this month, department officials are confident they have made progress in preventing such deaths.

At least 24 suicides have occurred on VA campuses in the last 18 months, the most recent two weeks ago when a Veteran shot himself in front of a crowd in the lobby of a Texas VA outpatient clinic. That came less than a week after two other Veterans died by suicide at separate VA locations in Georgia.

“We’re struggling to find any single trend with that group,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, national director of suicide prevention at VA. “Compared to the overall (number of Veteran suicides), that number is small … But we’re very concerned about anything that happens on our campuses.”

And the sudden spate of deaths doesn’t reflect recent progress at department hospitals, VA officials argue. In fact, outside health experts have lauded VA officials for their work on the issue in recent years.

Last fall, the Joint Commission — an independent non-profit that tracks more than 21,000 health care organizations nationwide — noted the rate of suicide in VA medical centers sits below that of the private sector, and dropped more than 80 percent (to 0.74 per 100,000 admissions) following department focus on the problem.

The figures “suggest that well-designed quality improvement initiatives can lead to a reduction in the occurrence of these tragic events,” researchers wrote.

The contradiction of progress with suicide prevention at VA versus a rise in publicly visible deaths will get renewed focus next Monday, when members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hold a hearing on VA suicide prevention efforts.

Already one lawmaker — Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., and an Afghanistan war Veteran — has introduced legislation pushing for more information on all suicide attempts at VA campuses, arguing that more information on the cases needs to be made public to stem the problem.

Franklin acknowledged the higher-profile nature of those recent suicides does add to the urgency of finding solutions.

In some cases, the suicides on VA campuses are in part a response to problems with VA care, although Franklin notes that such extreme actions are rarely spurred by a single reason. At least two Veterans who died left notes blaming VA for not providing enough health care.

Other Veterans may have selected the sites to ensure their discovery, and because VA officials could inform their families in a professional, less abrupt manner. Franklin said researchers have not found a single explanation — or a single solution — to the issue.

As a result, VA has not ordered any specific changes at facilities nationwide in response to the public suicides. Franklin said there has been a full review following each of the deaths — and 240 other suicide attempts on VA campuses that were prevented — to ensure appropriate patient outreach and response protocols are in place.

VA already offers same-day mental health care for Veterans, and last fall implemented a new Safety Planning Intervention program as part of a broader suicide prevention effort. That includes a checklist for physicians and patients of possible triggers and warning signs, quick contacts for assistance, and environmental threats such as drugs or firearms.

But department officials have rejected the idea of metal detectors at VA medical facilities, even after the Texas shooting, because “it would create a barrier to entry that might drive patients away.”

Franklin said national officials have required local leaders to review their safety and security plans, and are holding frequent conference calls to share successes and challenges with regional leaders.

And regional officials have taken their own steps to address the issue. In North Carolina, VA leadership has begun training parking lot attendants and front-line volunteers to identify signs of suicidal behavior and how to respond.

The administration at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Florida — which has seen five suicides on its campuses since 2013 — has more than doubled its suicide prevention staff in the last nine months (from four to 10) and increased surveillance around campuses, to watch for similar warning signs.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump created a new task force on preventing Veterans suicide with a deadline of next spring to propose sweeping new approaches to the issue. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is leading that effort, and the progress so far will be another talking point at Monday’s hearing.

Franklin noted that of the 20 Veterans who died by suicide daily, about 14 have little or no contact with department programs or personnel. That puts extra urgency on community outreach.

“We know this will take a national effort,” she said. “VA can’t do this alone.”

Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit for assistance.


Frustrations mount over lack of progress on preventing Veterans’ suicide

Be There 003


Just hours before a Capitol Hill hearing Monday on how to address the problem of Veterans dying by suicide, a Veteran took his own life outside the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

Lawmakers said that the incident was a painful reminder for all the effort and funding put into suicide prevention in recent years, progress on the issue has been frustratingly inconsistent.

“Two weeks ago, three other Veterans committed suicide at VA facilities in five days,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said. “So far, we have seen seven this year.

“It’s clear we are not doing enough to support Veterans in crisis.”

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House are pledging to try and fix that in coming months, launching a series of hearings and legislative pushes to address the lingering problem of Veterans suicide.

Takano and committee ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said they are optimistic they can advance bipartisan legislation on the issue, to include more research and monitoring within VA facilities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference ahead of the hearing to highlight the new congressional focus, called the issue an “uncomfortable, urgent crisis” and promised to work closely with Republican Party leaders on finding answers.

Preventing suicides has been VA’s top clinical priority for the past two years, and lawmakers noting that spending on support programs have more than doubled since 2005. Despite that, the rate of suicide among Veterans has remained steady over the last 10 years, with about 20 a day across the country.

Veterans Affairs officials have noted the uptick in Veterans who have died by suicide in public spaces at department facilities — 25 in the last 18 months — does not reflect a statistically significant increase in the overall suicide problem.

“But all of us feel these losses,” said Dr. Richard Stone, acting head of the Veterans Health Administration.

Lawmakers and Veterans groups expressed frustration at the department, not for their effort, but for their results.

“We must confront an uncomfortable and deeply troubling truth: VA’s current efforts and approaches to suicide prevention and mental health are not working,” said Joe Chennelly, executive director at AMVETS. “How do we know this? In the simplest of terms, the suicide numbers aren’t decreasing.”

Officials at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America lamented that “we are far from a long-term sustainable solution to address Veterans suicide.”

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced a year-long task force review of the Veterans suicide issue, engaging experts across multiple departments to find new ideas. The House effort echoes that move, but lawmakers hope to bring legislative force along with that.

Among the ideas being discussed at other committee hearings later this week: expanding eligibility for health care services, expanding research on suicides, mandating more reporting by VA on suicides on campuses and increased monitoring of prescriptions by VA doctors.

Shelli Avenevoli, deputy director at the National Institutes of Mental Health, said in recent years officials have seen successes with a host of new approaches, such as universal mental health screening for all patients and detailed follow-up plans for suicidal patients. Those ideas may also be included in coming House plans.

Takano, whose uncle — a Vietnam Veteran — died by suicide decades ago, said lawmakers are open to any innovations that could help with the issue.

VA officials said they are open to the conversation, calling challenge a national problem, not just one shouldered by their staff.

They did not disclose any additional details about the Cleveland suicide, which occurred early Monday morning outside of the campus’ emergency room. Stone noted that more than 240 suicides have been prevented on the grounds of VA facilities since the start of 2017, but the idea that 25 other deaths happened “with help just a few feet away is deeply troubling.”

Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit for assistance.


VA’s suicide prevention campaign ‘Be There’ kicks off in Times Square

Be There 002


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

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


Tragic Veteran Suicide At Cleveland VA Medical Center

Vet Suicide At Cleveland


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.


Top Veterans Affairs official hits back at AOC's claim the VA doesn't have enough money

Vet Suicide Prevention


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.


Veteran commits suicide outside VA hospital in Ohio

Commits Suicide


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.


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