Every day in 2005, 18.5 service members and veterans committed suicide; of those, 2.7 were active-duty and non-activated Guard or Reserve. In 2015, those numbers had risen to 20.6 deaths per day, of which 3.8 were among active-duty or non-activated Guard and Reserve members. According to the VA’s most recent analysis, 7,298 current and former service members committed suicide in 2016. Of those, 902 were former Guard and Reserve members.
National Guard and Reserve members may not have veteran legal status due to their type of service, which can limit their access to VA benefits and services under current laws and regulations. In partnership with the DoD, VA now operates a mobile Vet Center to increase Guard and Reserve members’ access to mental health care.
To further help them, their families, and their health care providers, the VA also has developed a tool kit with links to mental health and suicide prevention resources that are available through the VA and their communities. “Extending support to former Guard and Reserve members at the community level is an important aspect of VA’s public health approach to preventing suicide,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director for suicide prevention in the VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
The resources include online suicide prevention training, mobile apps that help with managing daily stressors, and supportive services for family members who are seeking care for former service members.
InTransition, for instance, is a free confidential program that offers coaching and specialized assistance over the phone for service members who need access to mental health care. Military OneSource provides military personnel and their families with round-the-clock support for a wide range of civilian necessities, such as tax preparation and spouse employment. PsychArmor Institute provides free online education to anyone who works with, lives with, or cares for service members, veterans, and their families. The MY3-Support Network app allows users to add the contact information of 3 people they would like to talk to when they are having thoughts of suicide.
The tool kit also offers links to programs for community members who want to learn how to help prevent suicides and support families who have gone through the trauma. The #BeThere Campaign teaches how simple acts can help save the life of a veteran in crisis. The S.A.V.E. Training video, designed in collaboration with PsychArmor Institute, teaches how to demonstrate support and compassion when talking with a veteran who may be at risk. Other links lead users to ways to help those whose loved one has committed suicide, such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).
Further expansion of suicide prevention activities for the former Guard and Reserve population is planned for fiscal year 2019.
The Veterans Crisis Line is available with free confidential support and crisis intervention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year: Call 800.273.8255 (press 1), text to 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat. The tool kit is available at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/docs/toolkit_National_Guard_and_Reserve_members_cleared_2-21-19.pdf.