Veteran Suicide Prevention

With veteran suicide rates climbing and access to care at the forefront of everyone’s mind, several measures have been put into place recently to help stave off self-harm in our American Military.

Executive Order

President Trump got the ball rolling by signing the executive order, The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide order, or PREVENTS, establishes a task force under the direction of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to install a comprehensive nationwide plan to address gaps in mental health access for veterans, including strengthening collaboration between local and state officials with the federal government.

The order encourages public-private partnerships to make mental healthcare more readily accessible, incentivizes mental health research, and revamps existing suicide prevention resources offered by the VA.

New Legislation

Now, in a seeming effort, to aid and bolster the existing executive order the Senate introduced a bill this week that aims to tackle the nation’s veteran suicide epidemic by boosting funding, mental health staff, alternative therapies and research at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This bill, introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has 18 parts that range from creating incentives to attract more mental health providers to work at the VA to researching the possibility that living at high elevations increases suicide risk. Tester is quoted as saying,

“This bill will build on what the VA is doing right when it comes to mental health treatment and suicide prevention while filling in the gaps.”

Suicide Rates

According to the latest VA data, 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Of those, 14 are not receiving VA health care.

Suicide among veterans continues at a higher rate than the rest of the population, and younger veterans are especially at risk. VA data released in September showed the rate of suicide among veterans ages 18 to 34 had significantly increased. For every 100,000 veterans in that age group, 45 committed suicide in 2016.

In the legislation, senators attempt to address the issue of suicide risk for younger veterans by building into the law an initiative that Trump announced last year that would automatically enroll every servicemember into VA mental health care for one year when they transition from active duty.

The Future

With so many promising interventions paving the way for better mental health, we can hope to see a drop not only in the suicide rates but in the stigma associated with receiving care. Hopefully, these programs will be implemented soon so our service members can get the care they so desperately need.