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Roe, Walz Op-Ed on Suicide Prevention: You Are Not Alone

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Washington, September 26, 2017 | comments
Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Walz penned this op-ed on ArmyTimes.com.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as legislators and leaders of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, we have a duty to ensure veterans contemplating ending their lives have access to the tools and resources they need to know they are not alone.

Recent data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs highlighted that, after adjusting for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide is still 22 percent higher among veterans than nonveterans in the U.S. Further, after adjustments for differences in age, risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female veterans than nonveteran adult women and 19 percent higher among male veterans than non-veteran adult men.

The two of us have been working together for quite some time on this issue. In fact, together, we founded the bipartisan Invisible Wounds Caucus to bring awareness to the men and women who are suffering from the invisible wounds of war.

As a nation, we must do better to identify and treat mental illness, but especially within the veteran and active-duty populations which continue to have higher rates of suicide than the general population. That’s why we are pleased to join VA Secretary David Shulkin to sign VA’s #BeThere Suicide Prevention Declaration.

In signing this declaration, we vow to:

  • Teach family, friends and caregivers about their role in preventing veteran suicide.
  • Share advanced knowledge and innovation that will help prevent suicide.
  • Get to know veterans in our communities.
  • Stop and listen to challenges veterans face.
  • Promote safe environments for veterans and their families.
  • Respond immediately to help veterans in crisis.
  • Support those affected by veteran suicide.

We can all support and be a resource for veterans and service members who are struggling, and we are proud to be part of this important initiative.

Earlier this year, we held a hearing to address ongoing concerns with the Veterans Crisis Line, VA’s first line of defense against veteran suicide. The issues with the VCL have been well-documented, and we were disappointed when a report released by the Inspector General in March found that the VCL failed to adequately respond to a veteran caller with urgent needs, that there were numerous structural deficiencies within the VCL, that staff members were not being trained appropriately and that VA had not yet implemented any suggestions made by the Government Accountability Office to improve the Veterans Crisis Line.

With that said, we were pleased to see that, over the last year and a half, VA has realigned the VCL to the Office of Member Services and fewer calls are being rolled to backup centers. Additionally, we commend VA on opening an additional call center for the VCL in Atlanta.

Thanks to the leadership of Secretary Shulkin, VA is on the right path, and we will continue oversight of the Veterans Crisis Line to ensure these kinds of improvements continue so the men and women who serve know they have a reliable support system at VA.

Secretary Shulkin has said that suicide prevention is his “top clinical priority.” We thank him for his leadership on this worthy endeavor and stand ready to support the department in their efforts to address this very serious public health issue.

We also thank our Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders, Chairman Johnny Isakson and Ranking Member Jon Tester, for their hearing this week on veteran suicide. We stand with Secretary Shulkin, Senators Isakson and Tester and, most importantly, veterans and service members around this country. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is a veteran in crisis, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text 838255. This confidential support is available to veterans and their loved ones 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. To learn more, visit www.veteranscrisisline.net/BeThere.

 


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