The Veteran Suicide Crisis

The veteran suicide crisis has, or will, touch almost every family, community, race, ethnic group, income bracket, and political persuasion in the country. 

The death toll is staggering, at least 20 veterans each day, and there’s no end in sight.

Click HERE for support for a veteran at risk. A new page will open.

The nation needs to do more to reduce veteran suicide

Each day 20 veterans, servicemembers, reservists, and members of the National Guard die by suicide– totaling more than 7,300 deaths per year. That’s 1,800 more deaths per year than the 5,429 servicemembers who have been killed in action since 2001.

The Hill 4/29/19

Frustrations mount over lack of progress on preventing veterans’ suicide

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.”

Military Times 4/29/19

Suicides on VA properties sound the alarm on veteran care

In February of last year, Justin Miller died by suicide in the parking lot of a Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis. The Marine veteran was 33. Justin, a trumpet player, made the band, but the Marines saw he could make another contribution as a marksman in Iraq manning a checkpoint with bomb-sniffing dogs.

“If the dog sat down, pull the trigger. Those were his orders. And he said he did that for weeks, day in, day out,” said Gregory Miller, Justin’s father.

When he left the Marines in 2007, his family said he changed. While he still volunteered to play his trumpet at various occasions, he was increasingly depressed and even suicidal. Eventually he sought help at a Veterans Affairs hospital.

“We said we loved each other. I kissed him, and that was the last time I saw my son,” Miller said.

After three days at the VA, he died.

CBS News 5/8/2019

The parking lot suicides

Veterans are taking their own lives on VA hospital campuses, a desperate form of protest against a system that they feel hasn’t helped them.

Alissa Harrington took an audible breath as she slid open a closet door deep in her home office. This is where she displays what’s too painful, too raw to keep out in the open.

Framed photos of her younger brother, Justin Miller, a 33-year-old Marine Corps trumpet player and Iraq veteran. Blood-spattered safety glasses recovered from the snow-covered Nissan Frontier truck where his body was found. A phone filled with the last text messages from his father: “We love you. We miss you. Come home.”

Miller was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts when he checked into the Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in February 2018. After spending four days in the mental-health unit, Miller walked to his truck in VA’s parking lot and shot himself in the very place he went to find help.

“The fact that my brother, Justin, never left the VA parking lot — it’s infuriating,” said Harrington, 37. “He did the right thing; he went in for help. I just can’t get my head around it.”

The Washington Post 2/7/2019

Justin Miller’s story is not unique. Click HERE (a new page will open) to learn about a veteran who filed a criminal complaint with the FBI alleging VA managers falsified records and threatened his access to future health care when he raised concerns about a flaw in the VA’s prescription delivery process.

Click HERE to make a difference and tell your representatives your respect and vote requires them to provide meaningful support to our veterans. A new page will open.

VA managers can’t get the job done

Too many VA managers are more concerned about advancing their careers than doing the job they were entrusted with, and that veterans are depending on.

Suicide Among Veterans Is Rising. But Millions for Outreach Went Unspent by V.A.

Suicide prevention efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs fell off sharply in the last two years, even though reducing the high suicide rate among veterans is the agency’s top clinical priority, according to a new report.

With the department’s top management in turmoil, the suicide prevention effort lacked leadership, planning meetings were repeatedly canceled, millions of dollars budgeted for outreach went unspent, and the television and radio ads that had been broadcast thousands of times across the country in previous years went all but silent.

The striking breakdown in prevention efforts is detailed in a Government Accountability Office report released late Monday. The report says that bureaucratic confusion and vacancies in key posts are largely to blame.

The New York Times 12/18/2018

The VA Didn’t Spend Millions of Dollars Meant for Veterans Suicide Prevention, Report Finds

Veterans Affairs officials failed to spend millions of dollars earmarked for veterans suicide prevention efforts in fiscal year 2018, leading to a measurable decline in outreach activity, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“Leadership turnover and reorganization since 2017” led to a “decrease in suicide prevention media activities” over the past two years, the report found. The agency employed no permanent national director for suicide prevention between July 2017 and April 2018, and agency employees told investigators that there were not always leadership officials available to make key decisions or run meetings related to suicide prevention outreach. These shortcomings forced staffers to shift “their focus away from the suicide prevention media outreach campaign” and toward other mental health efforts.

Suicide, a major public health issue for the U.S. as a whole, is a particularly pressing problem for veterans. An estimated 20 veterans die by suicide each day, and the VA named suicide prevention its “highest clinical priority” in 2018.

Time 12/19/2018

Our politicians aren’t part of the solution

…and our Senators and Representatives talk and talk…

Veteran suicide crisis draws attention from House lawmakers who promise action following multiple deaths on VA campuses

WASHINGTON — A veteran died by suicide outside the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Cleveland on Monday – hours before a House panel was slated to discuss several other veteran suicides that occurred on VA property this month.

“Another one just today,” said Melissa Bryant, the policy officer with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “That’s our sense of urgency.”
The veteran died at about 3 a.m. outside the emergency room at the Cleveland VA, said Bryant, who was briefed on the incident.

At 5 p.m. on Capitol Hill, House Republicans and Democrats joined together to draw attention to what they described as a rising trend of suicides on VA campuses.

The scheduled hearing and news conference were held in response to multiple instances of veterans dying by suicide in April — three suicides in five days. Two happened on VA campuses in Georgia and one inside the waiting room at a VA clinic in Austin, Texas.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Monday evening heard from officials at the National Institute of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about best practices for suicide prevention.


…and hold hearings…

Veteran Suicide Prevention

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine ways to combat suicide among military veterans. Witnesses included officials from the National Institutes of Health, Veterans Affairs Department and the Suicide Prevention Branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

C-SPAN 4/29/2019

Veteran and Active-Duty Military Suicides

This hearing will examine the enduring and pressing emergency of military suicides among veterans and active-duty servicemembers, as well as Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) efforts to prevent military suicides.  The hearing will also examine the role of veterans advocacy organizations, mental health and crisis support groups, and local communities to prevent veteran suicides.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform 5/8/2019

…and introduce legislation which won’t hold the responsible VA managers accountable…

VA suicide prevention staff is ‘overworked’ and can’t ‘keep up’ with demand. This bill aims to help.

VA employees whose task it is to prevent veteran suicides by identifying high-risk veterans and making sure they get help are “overworked” and “unable to keep up” with the demand, Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., said.

Brindisi is sponsoring the “Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act” filed April 18, which is intended to ensure that those VA staff members “have the tools and resources they need to provide veterans with critical mental health resources,” a news release from Brindisi’s office said.

“Twenty veterans die by suicide every day,” Brindisi said in a statement. “This is wrong and unacceptable, and we must do more. It is our responsibility to ensure every veteran has a place to turn when he or she needs help. Our bill is an important step to improve VA suicide prevention resources and ensure all veterans have access to the life-saving mental health care they need.”

The bill would require an assessment of the responsibilities, workload and number of vacancies in the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention coordinators.

Suicide prevention coordinators “are the face of the VA’s efforts to combat veteran suicide,” according to Brindisi.

Connecting 4/25/2019

…and issue press releases.

Need for bipartisan veterans suicide prevention bills highlighted at committee hearing

(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing, Ranking Member Jon Tester highlighted his innovative, bipartisan veterans suicide prevention bills aimed at addressing the alarming number of veteran suicides in Montana and across the country. Tester is also doubling down on those efforts by pushing for his bills’ inclusion in the Senate’s must-pass annual defense bill— the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA).

“As we all know, suicide is a national public health crisis, and veterans are particularly hard hit,” said Tester at the hearing. “The Department must play the central role in combating this crisis and coordinating veteran care… But the VA cannot tackle the crisis alone – we need an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester’s Office 6/20/2019

Unlocking the Veteran Suicide Crisis

Congress has taken steps to improve access and treatment for veterans at risk of suicide. That includes significant funding increases to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to decrease veteran suicide rates. In Fiscal Year 2010, the VA requested $62 million for suicide prevention outreach. That number nearly quadrupled to $222 million within ten years. Despite the sharp increase in resources, 20 veterans commit suicide each day. That number has unfortunately remained roughly unchanged. Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving healthcare services at the VA. This points to a significant need to empower the VA to work through community partners to expand outreach.

National data indicate that more than 50,000 organizations provide suicide prevention services for veterans, yet they are hard for veterans to find, access, apply for and use. The VA and these organizations share a common goal of saving the lives of veterans, but lack the framework and authority to coordinate their efforts.

That’s why I’m pushing the VA to improve information sharing between the department and veteran-serving nonprofits. I recently partnered with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to introduce legislation that would enable the VA to harness the potential of what is already occurring in communities by allowing it to provide grant funding to nonprofits and local organizations for expanded outreach to veterans.The IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act enhances coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and would better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.  

Arkansas Senator John Boozman 7/1/2019

And each day this disgraceful cycle continues at least twenty veterans take their own lives.

Not one word about holding the individual VA managers responsible for neglecting and abusing an at risk veteran which results in a suicide.

Our Senators and members of Congress are aware of the problem, but most aren’t yet willing to exercise leadership and make the hard decisions which some might criticize.

Until we get our elected representatives’ attention they’ll avoid doing the right thing. Maybe they believe their apathy won’t affect your vote. Show them they’re wrong!

Click HERE to make a difference and tell your representatives your respect and vote requires them to provide meaningful support to our veterans. A new page will open.

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