“Every day, approximately 22 veterans take their lives, and that is too many,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin, announcing new steps the VA is taking to reduce suicides. The announcement follows “Preventing Veteran Suicide,” a “Call to Action” summit that brought together nearly 200 mental health professionals, caregivers, veterans and their families, veteran service organizations, members of Congress, and experts from other federal agencies. Although the February 2 summit was in Washington, DC, thousands joined in via Twitter. In fact, #PreventVetSuicide was a Twitter trending topic for the day and the top trending hashtag in ≥ 10 US cities.
The summit was pulled together “in record time,” Shulkin said—30 days from conception to execution. “The reason for the urgency was because this is truly urgent, and when there is a crisis, it is important to act as if there is a crisis.”
The summit introduced several policy shifts and new initiatives, which included:
- Providing additional resources to the VA’s Suicide Prevention Program that allow it to manage and strengthen current programs and initiatives;
- Offering same-day evaluations and access to veterans by the end of 2016;
- Using measures of veteran-reported symptoms to tailor mental health treatments to individual needs;
- Using predictive models, as well as data on suicide attempts and drug overdoses, to guide prevention strategies;
- Increasing availability of naloxone rescue kits; and
- Establishing 3 regional telemental health hubs.
The VA also is launching a study, “Coming Home from Afghanistan and Iraq,” that examines the impact of deployment and combat on mental health and well-being, and will continue to partner with the DoD on suicide prevention and other efforts for a seamless transition from military service to civilian life.