The Military and Suicide Prevention
Posted by IAVA Staff on September 27
Against the backdrop of the Army’s service-wide stand down for suicide prevention, today the Army released its suicide numbers for the month of August. The Army reported 25 potential suicides: 16 among active duty soldiers and 9 in the reserve component. So far in 2012, the Army has reported 211 potential suicides among active duty and reserve members.
The first since 2009, today’s service-wide stand down aims to familiarize soldiers with health services, suicide prevention and soldier fitness resources available in the Army. Today’s program is one part of September’s Suicide Prevention Month campaign. Efforts throughout the month have focused on reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and emphasizing that every service member and veteran is responsible for the well-being of the men and women to their left and right.
There is no question that the military and the nation face a public health crisis when it comes to suicide. Combating military suicide will take a national effort, and for this critical mission failure is not an option. No one can argue that we need to enlist more dedicated stakeholders to fight this battle. During Suicide Prevention month, we’ve seen renewed focus from Washington on mental health and suicide - from a joint Department of Defense (DoD) and Veteran Affairs (VA) suicide awareness campaign to a White House executive order to today’s Army-wide stand down – but we need to see sustained commitment from the government and the country all year round. With the stakes this high, service members, veterans and their families deserve transparency and accountability. Without comprehensive research and reporting on suicide and mental health status, the “sea of goodwill” cannot step up to effectively support the men and women struggling to transition home.
Here are a few more details on the joint DoD/VA awareness campaign and the White House executive order issued this in September:
“Stand by Them: Help a Veteran” is a joint DoD and VA awareness campaign that is part of the new national strategy on suicide prevention. The campaign highlights the role the community plays in preventing suicide and strives to connect veterans or service members at risk to the Veterans Crisis Line. A 21st century community-driven approach, the new strategy includes a Facebook service that allows users to report suicidal comments. After notification, Facebook will then send the comment author an email, urging them to call the VCL hotline. The strategy treats suicide as a public health issue that requires collective national action, reinforced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ announcement for $55.6 million in grant funding to suicide prevention.
On August 31, 2012, President Obama announced that he had signed an executive order entitled “Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families.” The order builds on some efforts already underway, such as VA’s plan to hire 1,600 new mental health clinicians and 300 mental health support staff, which Secretary Shinseki announced in June. The order also addresses several key components of IAVA’s 2012 Policy Agenda, including recommendations to:
- Elevate suicide prevention efforts across the board,
- Enhance access to mental health care by building partnerships between VA and community providers,
- Promote mental health research and development of more effective treatment methods,
- Increase the number of VA mental health providers serving our veterans,
- And provide better care and support options to service members and military families struggling with mental health issues.
Our nation’s newest veterans face many challenges when they return home. These efforts from the DoD, VA and the Administration to combat suicide and improve mental healthcare are welcome. However, they are only part of the solution to the challenges veterans face upon returning home.
Obtaining employment and quality education remain big obstacles, as well. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans continue to face elevated levels of unemployment compared to civilians - 10.9% as opposed to 8.1% in August, according to the BLS. And Congress isn’t being much help, either. In a disappointing move last week, the Senate put politics above progress and failed to pass the Veterans Job Corps Act, legislation that would put thousands of American heroes back to work. Some for-profit schools are also exploiting veterans’ education benefits with low quality education at extremely high costs. Instead of respected degrees, veterans are finding themselves with debt, zero job placement support, and useless certifications.
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