The Veterans Affairs Department Feb. 1 released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide.
In the past, data on veterans who died by suicide was only available for those who had sought VA health care services. Today’s report also includes state data for veterans who had not received health care services from VA. Department officials say the additional information will help VA strengthen its aggressive suicide prevention activities.
The report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has fallen slightly since 1999, while the estimated total number of veterans who have died by suicide has increased.
“The mental health and well-being of our courageous men and women who have served the nation is the highest priority for VA, and even one suicide is one too many,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. “We have more work to do and we will use this data to continue to strengthen our suicide prevention efforts and ensure all veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve.”
According to VA officials, the department has hired and trained additional staff to increase the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent, in accordance with President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31, 2012, executive order. The Veteran Crisis Line has made approximately 26,000 rescues of actively suicidal veterans to date, according to officials.
VA also has initiated a yearlong public awareness campaign, “Stand By Them,” to educate families and friends on how to seek help for veterans and service members in crisis. Additionally, VA has launched a national public service announcement, “Side by Side.”
VA officials said the department has an aggressive hiring campaign to expand access to mental health services with 1,600 new clinical staff and 300 new administrative staff. VA also is hiring and training 800 peer-to-peer specialists who will work as members of mental health teams, officials said.
The report issued today is the most comprehensive study of veteran suicide rates ever undertaken by the department, officials noted. On June 16, 2010, Shinseki engaged the governors of all 50 states, asking their support in collecting suicide statistics.
Now, with assistance from state partners providing real-time data, VA can better identify where veterans at risk may be located, and can improve the department’s ability to target outreach activities to reach veterans early and proactively, officials said.
The data will also help VA monitor the effectiveness of suicide prevention programs in specific geographic locations or care settings, officials said, so the department can replicate them in other areas if they have been effective.
VA officials said the department has implemented comprehensive suicide prevention initiatives, including a toll-free Veterans Crisis Line, placement of suicide prevention coordinators at all VA medical centers and large outpatient facilities, and improvements in case management and reporting.
Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255. The full report can be found on VA’s website along with a summary response from VA undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert A. Petzel.