Suicide Prevention at the VA Is A Click or Call Away

There were more than 45,000 suicides in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, representing a 30 percent increase since 1999. About 18 percent of those who die by suicide are Veterans.

Veterans are at risk for a variety of reasons. Some are coping with aging, stress, or the lingering effects of their military service. Many have underlying mental health conditions or substance use disorders that have never been addressed.

The VA takes this situation seriously. As part of its efforts to address the problem, it established a toll-free, Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). The hotline dates to 2007 and is staffed by mental health professionals 24/7. As of September 2017, the Crisis Line had received more than 3 million calls. Mental health professionals dispatched emergency services to callers in imminent crisis more than 84,000 times.

The Veterans Crisis Line is also available by text at #838255 and online chat at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net.  Since November 2011, the Veterans Crisis line has responded to nearly 359,000 chat requests and 78,000 texts.

It’s important to note that registration with the VA or enrollment in VA health care is not required to access and use any of these services. Also, the VA has full-time suicide prevention coordinators at each of its 145 medical centers across the country.

Another response to the problem is the ACE-Suicide Intervention (Ask, Care, Escort) program, developed by Veteran Integrated Service Network (VISN) 19 to help Veterans, family members, and friends in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah know the steps they can take to get help in order to prevent a suicide. The ACE acronym summarizes those steps. The VISN also provides a consulting/training service for those in clinical positions who are serving Veterans at risk for suicide.

In 2016, the VA’s Under Secretary for Health announced additional steps the department is taking to reduce Veteran suicide. They include:

  • Elevating VA's Suicide Prevention Program with additional resources to manage and strengthen current programs and initiatives.

  • Meeting urgent mental health needs by providing Veterans with same-day evaluations and access to care.

  • Establishing a new standard of care by using measures of Veteran-reported symptoms to tailor mental health treatments to individual needs.

  • Launching a new study, "Coming Home from Afghanistan and Iraq," to look at the impact of deployment and combat as it relates to suicide, mental health, and well-being.

  • Using predictive modeling to guide early interventions for suicide prevention.

  • Using data on suicide attempts and overdoses for surveillance to guide strategies to prevent suicide.

  • Increasing the availability of naloxone rescue kits throughout VA to prevent deaths from opioid overdoses.

  • ·Enhancing Veteran mental health access by establishing three regional tele-mental health hubs.

  • Partnering with the Department of Defense on suicide prevention and other efforts for a seamless transition from military service to civilian life.

If you or someone you love is in need of support, remember that help is a free call away—Veterans Crisis Line, at 1-800-273-8255.

 

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare professional.

Jay Mills