98. That is how many veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars killed themselves by September of 2009. 6,000. That is how many veterans commit suicide every year. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been attempting to strategically battle this issue and are intensifying and increasing their efforts.
On average, 18 veterans kill themselves every day. Of these, almost 5 are receiving care from the VA health care system. Of those 5, on average, more than 60% of them had been diagnosed with some type of mental health condition. These numbers certainly justify the VA’s new and progressive outreach program. The program is designed to:
- Focus on those problems or symptoms seemingly leading to suicide; and
- Make certain both veterans and their families know where help is available.
Some groups of veterans are more at risk than others. The number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental conditions such as PTSD is at an all time high. Not surprisingly then, veterans 18-29 years of age not receiving VA health care are more likely to commit suicide than veterans under VA care to the tune of approximately 250 veterans a year.
The VA’s top priority is increasing veterans’ access to care as every VA medical center employs mental health professionals. Examples of the VA’s anti-suicide efforts include:
- Establishing a toll-free national suicide hotline credited with preventing 7,000 active suicide attempts;
- Activating an anonymous online chat service which has serviced over 4,000 people to date;
- Updating the VA’s screening and assessment processes;
- Hiring an additional 6,000 mental health professionals; and
- Launching an advertising campaign in 124 U.S. cities to include public service announcements.
Veterans constitute almost 20% of the total amount of deaths each year from suicide. The VA’s plan to help save veterans’ lives revolves around making sure veterans know there is help available and where to get that help. Hopefully the VA’s efforts will stop the current trend of veteran suicides.
If you are a veteran contemplating suicide, know that there is help out there for you. Contact your local VA or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and then press 1 to be routed to the Veteran’s Suicide Prevention hotline.