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Regional Director of Military and Federal Homecare
Fax: 855-444-2917 293
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Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Recently, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Dr. David Shulkin declared suicide prevention his top clinical priority. As part of his prevention effort, effective July 5, 2017, VA began offering veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative military discharges, an estimated 500,000 veterans, access to the full array of VA services if they require emergency mental health treatment. Former service members may enter the system to use this benefit by visiting a VA emergency room or Vet Center or by calling the Veteran Crisis Line. If it is determined to be a mental health emergency, the veteran may qualify for up to 90 days of care, which can include inpatient, residential, and outpatient care. During this time, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), will work together to determine if the veteran’s mental health issue is related to military service, which would make the veteran eligible for continuing medical care. For more detailed information about this initiative, click here VA Fact Sheet.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed military documents of veterans with OTH discharges between 2011 and 2015, and found that over 13,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury received OTH discharges. According to the military’s policy, these factors should have been considered in the character of discharge decision, but were not. Prior to Secretary Shulkin’s change in policy, these veterans with OTH discharges generally lacked access to VA mental health care services.
Despite VA’s dedicated efforts to reduce veteran suicide, an average of 20 veterans per day take their own lives, 21 percent higher than non-veterans. In order to reduce this number VA established a crisis line and placed suicide prevention coordinator teams at every VA medical center. To date, the crisis line has answered 2.3 million calls, participated in 289,000 chats, replied to 55,000 texts, dispatched emergency services over 61,000 times, and provided over 376,000 referrals to VA suicide prevention coordinators. Most recently, the VA announced its efforts to train all its employees to recognize suicide warning signs to help ensure vulnerable veterans do not fall through the cracks. Recent independent assessments by Altarum and the RAND Corporation, found that the VA provides mental health and suicide prevention services that are superior to the private sector by as much as 30 percent across seven different performance indicators.
VA has made significant improvements in its mental health and suicide prevention services and the Department reports that veterans who choose VA are at lower risk for suicide. Unfortunately, many veterans do not elect to use VA, or they are ineligible to receive care. Secretary Shulkin noted that 70 percent of veterans who commit suicide are not regular VA patients. The most comprehensive study to date covering veteran suicide, published in July 2016, further demonstrates the increased risks for veterans who do not utilize VA services. This study found that since 2001, the rate of veterans using VA services who committed suicide increased by 5.4 percent, compared to an increase of 38.4 percent for those who did not use, or have access to, VA’s health care services. The statistics for female veterans are of particular concern. During the same time period, the rate of female veteran suicide decreased by 2.6 percent for VA users, but increased by 81.6 percent for women veterans who did not use VA services.
While more work is required to eliminate veteran suicide, this new policy to expand mental health care to eligible veterans with OTH military discharges is a step in the right direction. Secretary Shulkin stated, “we want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency.”
Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in partnership with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is pleased to announce its inaugural Mayor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. SAMHSA’s SMVF TA Center will facilitate the Mayor’s Challenge process, which includes an orientation meeting, a web-based preparation session, and the two-and-a-half-day policy academy in Washington, DC. Policy academy participants will receive specialized technical assistance aimed at preventing suicide among services for service members, Veterans, and their families through the development of a targeted strategic action plan.
For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON– Today the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced the inaugural Mayor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among service members, Veterans and their families.
The goal of the Mayor’s Challenge is to eliminate suicide by using a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention.
“Of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year, 14 were not under VA care,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin. “We are pleased to partner with SAMHSA to bring attention, education and support regarding suicide prevention to communities where our Veterans live.”
VA and SAMHSA will invite seven cities to participate in a policy academy process that up until now has been available only to states and territories. The cities will be invited based on Veteran population data, suicide prevalence rates and capacity of the city to lead the way in this first phase of the Mayor’s Challenge.
The selected cities will be announced mid-December, once they have formally accepted nominations.
Teams from each of the seven cities will meet March 14-16, 2018, in Washington, D.C., to develop strategic action plans to implement in their communities. The teams will include collaborative groups of community, municipal, military and other stakeholders. VA will provide technical assistance to support local efforts and to document outcomes and share strategies with other municipalities.
Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at SAMHSA, said, “We must act now to accelerate suicide prevention efforts at the local level, with communities embracing and supporting the health and well-being of our service members, Veterans and their families.”
Cities interested in learning more about the Mayor’s Challenge, can submit a request for information form HERE.
Veterans in crisis or having thoughts of suicide — and those who know a Veteran in crisis — should call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text to 838255.
Operation: Tohidu® is an experiential and educational retreat designed for a growing population of warfighters living with post-traumatic stress, mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injury, and other service-related traumas.
“Tohidu” is a Cherokee word meaning peace of mind, body, and spirit. At Operation: TohiduR retreats, veterans focus on confidence-building, outdoor activities, and group discussion in a relaxed, positive environment, learning proven techniques for self-management of symptoms, stressors, and responses.
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