Preventing Veteran suicide: a call to action


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As a national leader in suicide prevention, VA understands that more needs to be done and we cannot do it alone. Nearly 200 mental health professionals, caregivers, veterans and their families, veteran service organizations, members of Congress and experts from other federal agencies answered the call to action this week, a call to end the tragedy of Veteran suicide. It was a day dedicated to listening, getting to know each other and learning. It was a day of reflection, hope, inspiration and idea generation.

We pulled this together in record time — 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.  We cannot accept Veteran suicides as inevitable and we cannot accept the status quo.

Among the attendees at yesterday’s summit on “Preventing Veteran Suicide – A Call to Action,” were Susan and Richard Selke. Their son, Clay Hunt, was a Marine Corps Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who took his own life in 2011. Their moving story and inspiring call for improving mental health care for Veterans like their son was an emotional reminder of how Veteran and Servicemember suicide impacts all Americans and needs to be addressed in a coordinated effort with government and community stakeholders.

Dr. Howard and Jean Somers, parents of Sgt. Daniel Somers, also spoke on learning from their son’s suicide. “We must insist on a refocus on VA health care to become a center of excellence for war related injuries.” I couldn’t agree more.

Both of these families turned their grief into action — to give hope to the hopeless, and to save others from knowing the pain they have known. I am grateful to them for their courage and perseverance and for sharing their story.

President Obama joined us by video and re-emphasized that “Caring for our Veterans is a national mission. So long as any Veteran is hurting and needs help our work is not done.”

Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shulkin and Secretary McDonald speak with participants at Preventing Veteran Suicide: A Call to Action

Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shulkin and Secretary McDonald speak with participants at Preventing Veteran Suicide: A Call to Action

We had the benefit of hearing from Army Veteran Brent Rice and Air Force Veteran John Heitzman. They shared their very personal experiences. Rice shared that volunteering to help others is what helped him recover. For Heitzman, he explained it was the VA who helped him through his difficult time. As Dr. Thomas Joiner, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University told us, “Only care and follow up is proven to completely stop suicidal tendencies.” He went on to say, “One solution is a hope box that reminds people of what they have to live for–we have to get better at learning how to motivate people to take up offers of connection.”

While we had a conversation in D.C., thousands joined the conversation across the nation. In fact, #PreventVetSuicide was recognized as a Twitter trending topic for the day and was the top trending hash-tag in more than 10 U.S. cities. Many positive comments came from the online discussion, along with some very personal sharing from those who knew people who succumbed to suicide. Here is a collection of some of the more prevalent social media posts.

I’m grateful to all of our speakers and to everyone that attended.  We met because suicides are an unacceptable crisis in our Veterans’ lives. VA depends so much on the work of others to accomplish our mission — on their research, their expertise, their insight, and their commitment to suicide prevention.

Yesterday’s summit is a starting point. Now we need to work together to end this crisis and help the men and women who are now serving and have served their country. Thank you for all you do for Veterans each and every day.


Dr. David ShulkinAbout the Author: Dr. David J. Shulkin is the Under Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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David Shulkin

Comments

  1. Loretta Gulley    

    VA still turning Vets away who need help everyday. Income and time since deployment should not be a discrimination for a Vet who is screaming for help

    1. Adam Jones    

      Loretta, I agree and use to work with the VA and I am a retire veteran. I had to complete stop working for the VA due to the environment being so hostile toward retire veterans who came to work with for the VA and not getting the protection needed to feel safe working for an agency that fail to provide protection for its’ employees due to the threats from hostile patients who threaten to harm employee because of dissatisfaction with VA polices and providers recommendations. I tried to get help for PTSD and was informed I was not a candidate because I did not have the ability to take time off my job to make it to the medical appointments during the daytime hours scheduled. This was in the state for Florida at the Jacksonville FL VA clinics. I recently requested to change clinics in September 2015 but was not granted the change until I called three times and requested to have the requested change accomplished. I was informed the first time my treating physical failed to submit the counsel request correctly to the new clinic I requested. After calling in the second time I was informed they would process the request immediately but that never happen. I recently call back and had to speak directly to the program manager who apologized for the mistake and stated she was not copied on the counsel for change of clinic request which cause the delay. Finally. I thank God I have faith, a loving family and a strong church fellowship of friends who had my back because the VA in the north Florida and Georgia lacks and does not have the ability to provide the proper care for PTSD patients with after hour clinic and community base support outside of the VA and they know this but will not do anything to assist. I wonder how many other VETS are in my position who suffered silently or died from lack of service. I’m just thankful for my family, friends and church but not all VETS have these resources. My appoint to see the new TP has been schedule for April 2016. I had to travel over two hours just to see and orthopedic provider for my knees and the VA has yet to pay me for my travel to several long distance appointments to specialty clinics. Thank you VA for the stress and inconvenience you cause and lack of service.

  2. Loretta Gulley    

    VA turns Current conflict Vets away without help everyday based on income and time since deployment without any other regard.

    1. Gretchen    

      no they don’t. if you are screaming for help, go to the ED.

  3. John Donald Cox    

    It’s interesting that the V.A., that claims to be so proactive concerning veteran suicide is a contributor to veteran depression and suicide. I fought for 15 1/2 years with the V.A. for my PTSD, service connected rating and finally won and the V.A. lost. Every time I received a V.A. denial letter, I went into deepening depression. And, at the same time, I read how compassionate the V.A. is towards those who have PTSD symptoms. The V.A. promulgates this supposed compassion towards veterans who have PTSD as a p. r. move but certainly does not want the average American in the street to actually know anything about how this same V.A. repeatedly, evilly denies veterans their rightful service-connected compensations. It’s sickening. And I, for one know that this is true from my personal experiences with a V. A. that didn’t give a damn whether I lived or died. One of the reasons that I did not kill myself is that I did not want to give the uncaring, unfeeling V. A. the satisfaction that it could close my open compensation application/appeal secondary to my suicide.

    1. wilfred    

      It took me years and years to get my PTSD rating, now when a veteran asks me for advice the first thing I tell them is, don`t trust the V.A. they are your enemies, sometime you will find a Doctor that cares but mostly they don`t care, be very careful who you talk to.

    2. DannyG    

      Mr. Cox, my Brother, as sad as it is, THAT attitude is what keeps many vets going! DON’T GIVE UP! DON’T LET THE GOV’T WIN THIS BATTLE!

  4. Rhonda Faye Stout    

    Your system is broke and that is why after a long comment about how our government does not care about our Veterans and wonders why the suicide rates are up. I would like to know why none of the Air Force Veteran station at the Lackland/Kelly Air Force Base have been notified about drinking contaminated water and as a result have suffered great and are ill. This according to new paper articles will affect our DNA for three generations. I am ill, my children are ill, and my grandchildren are ill. Our government cares more for person from third world countries than they do us. Even Title 38 allows non Veteran bosses to hire their buddies than that of a professional Veteran who has more experience. The help lines do not help all they do is waste our time and our resources. It would be better to take that money and give it to the Veteran, then you would see a drop in the suicide rate.

  5. MICHAEL    

    This all a bunch of crap. If President is so worried about us then why put us in poor house by not raising COLA 3 times and the other times was 1.2 percent. So if Bush was in office we would be making about 20 to 30 percent more but this fool has made us in the poverty arena.

    SGT MLW
    UN/USMC/NATO/US ARMY/DOD AIR FORCE

  6. Mike Moore    

    I’m a 60 year old veteran.

    I have computer skills.

    I worked tech support at my last job – leaving, voluntarily at 59.

    (PC Support, Network, Hardware, Software Support – 100 users – PART TIME)

    I have Type 2 diabetes. I’ve been told I’m possibly bipolar.

    I also understand that having a routine – like a JOB, HELPS.

    I understand that having a social network like the one that comes
    with a JOB or VOLUNTEERING HELPS.

    There doesn’t seem to be a market for computer literate 60 year
    olds.

    There doesn’t seem to be a demand for 60 year old volunteers interested
    in something other than manual labor – somewhat incompatible with being
    a 60 year old type 2 diabetic.

    People ask, if I have a “death wish”.

    And, my reasons to live ARE???

    A JOB? Volunteering?

    Maybe I’ll come back to the system when I’m senile.

    Maybe then there’ll be some consideration.

    No, I don’t have a death wish.

    How about some reasons to live????

  7. Mike Moore    

    The most concern I’ve gotten from the V.A. is on ordering a “Freedom Alert”. THEN I got called EVERY week asking about it. When I asked a simple question about costs, I was told, they don’t know (outsourced). I surmised that if I had any second thoughts about the “FREE” of this “Freedom Alert”, I’d get the same runaround. So, I didn’t ask. It was ten digits for them to call me (area code / phone #). It was about 15 – 20 digits to return the call (area code, phone number, extension, ID #).

    I get calls from a nephew who EVERY message is “URGENT” and every phone call begins, “Hi!” (so much for “Urgent”. Just as I learned that if a phone is ONLY for “emergencies” then EVERY call becomes an “emergency”. Imagine that.

    So, I have no incentive to answer the phone OR to return calls. Change the phone number? And let EVERYONE who depends on that number know that I’ve changed my phone number. Just easier to let folks leave messages and return the essentials. NO, I don’t have a smart phone. I’ve got no good reason to. And it just drives up the costs of life on a limited budget. Don’t want the stupid smart phone anymore than I wanted the “birth control” plastic frame glasses I got for FREE from the military.

    So, in closing, I got more calls and followup from the V.A. on the Freedom Alert than I have on my type 2 diabetes or possibly bi-polar, which for an accurate diagnosis requires that I show up with my thumb up my butt for an hour beforehand to get an appointment which doesn’t begin to explain HOW this works for obsessive-compulsives or others who just don’t have the wherewithal to sit still for an hour to begin with. I guess the supposition is that if you can force yourself to sit still for an hour doing nothing for an appointment then maybe things aren’t so bad after all. Catch-22. You have to wait. If you don’t wait, we can’t see you. If you CAN wait, then maybe you’re not as bad off as you think you are.

    A REALLY great system so far.

    Don’t know WHY I waited so long to sign up.

  8. Charles McFall    

    No point saying anything to the US government, nobody cares except to do any and every thing they can to hurt us. The VA hires only one kind of people and apparently on some kind of pay scale that gives them a bonus every time they screw a veteran.

    1. DannyG    

      Brother McFall, With all due respect, you are WRONG. I worked for the VETERANS Administration, & have many friends that currently work there. WE NEVER GOT A BONUS! Only the ‘executives” & “professionals” get bonuses, & Secretary McDonald has 86’d them, allbeit, temporarily. Overall, I am pleased with “MyVA”, but hate seeing hoe our brothers & sisters are being treated; but let’s keep the facts straight!
      MANY GOOD, CARING, UNDERPAID PEOPLE WORK FOR US, THE PROBLEM IS WITH THE POLITICIANS, & THOSE THAT FEEL THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH SCREWING US OVER FOR MANY MORE YEARS!
      I believe in Secretary McDonald, & We, America’s Veterans, need to stand behind him, because he is not only our brother, I submit to ALL of you, that he is OUR LAST HOPE!

  9. KAREN O.    

    The Cleveland, Louis Stokes VA, gives outstanding care to those who seek it. I have no complaints because they’re always there for us.

  10. Wayne Henry Lukasik    

    PLEASE READ THIS POST I AM WRITING. Cause maybe we can get something to change.

    So, most of you don’t know me, but I’ve had a real hard time since I’ve got out of the Marine Corps, in and out of the hospital and psych wards. So when I came back from the in patient stay at the Battle Creek VA in late October they had to make a mental health appointment within 7 days, specially when your considered high risk. I told my doctor that only coming in once a month isn’t enough, I need to talk to someone at least every other week. My VA Psychiatrist! Told me as I’m breaking down that she doesn’t have time to deal with me right now, talk to me in a month. She couldn’t even put a consult that takes two minutes so I could get help. So I got worse and ended up back in the psych ward again.

    Now, someone extremely close to me went to the psych ward the day I got out and got some help cause they were at the end of their rope. They had their doctors appointment today at the VA. It was within 7 days, we’ll turns out we were both misdiagnosed for years with multiple visits to the psych ward. So my friend told the doctor that they desperately needed to talk to someone more than once a month. Their doctor not only took the meds always that B 2 just put them on to not kill their self but their doctor REFUSED TO PUT IN A CONSULT SO THIS PERSON COULD TALK TO A PSYCHOLOGIST TWICE A MONTH, THEY WERE SO DEVERSATED BY NO BEING ABLE TO GET HELP, SOMEONE TO TALK TO SO THEY DONT KILL THEIR SELF. THE DOCTOR SAID YOU DONT NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE MORE THAN ONCE A MONTH.

    My friend is also my soon to be wife.

    Finally I pulled my Medical Record last night, and maybe about 30% was actually true. And way to cover your own ass VA by taking out the things that you caused me get worse. I was going to use my Tri-Care cause I was medically retired for PTSD. But since I now have no accurate Medical Record to take to a civilian Doctor I’m screwed. Completely useless now since my own doctors are twisting what I say and not putting what should be in the file, in the file.

    I hope this makes it to someone who can do something with it and I am more than willing to call out everyone of the MH Professionals who helped make me realize that I am still nothing, We can even sit down with my medical record. I hate you VA for actually making it more stressful on me after I was actually trying to get help.

    My name is Wayne Lukasik
    USMC

  11. Rory Robert Jones    

    I am receiving 30% for MST-PTSD.
    That was in 2005. Odd that they lost my records the same day it was being done.
    Did the interview process with a lady who seemed not interested in it.
    In short, I was Sexual assulted by a Sgt in the middle of the night and he said that he would do something to me if I talked. Like end my life. I buried it deep in ein my mind. 38 years ago. Came back later like a bomb. Wasn’t sure if it was real or not.
    Help from the Va concluded that it was. Even though I never reported it.
    At that time. You needed to provide evidence that it did.
    I since have had flashbacks and dreams. This past year was the worst of it.
    Approached twice by a neighbor.
    I lost it and went into a panic attack and I shut down the world.
    Giving me more medication and I accidentally took it wrong. Three months of this. Never wanted to leave the house. When I did. Panic attacks really bad.
    Cut off the family and friends .
    After so long of this. I wanted to die. and I asked God to let me die because I couldn’t take it anymore.
    That’s when my friends and a lady of who I adore, talked me going to the hospital and get help.
    No room at my va. Outsourcing me to a flat out nut house. I was shocked. . I hated it from the start. Nothing to do but sleep. Rotten food. After 2 1/2 days I waslet out of this prison.
    I have manic server clinical depression.
    MST-PTSD. Did a CP to file for an increase in compensation. Checking in to the hospital on my own. Helped my case . Or so the head doctor told my daughter on the phone. I didn’t do it for this. I did it because I had enough of the situation and I wanted to die. They took it seriously.
    I have medical issues since 2005. Not service related. COPD. LEGS . HEARING. THE LIST GOES ON.
    I am not sure if this will increase the compensation rating.
    On the paperwork given to from the testing center.
    IT STATES THAT THE CASE CLOSED -GRANTED.
    I can’t find out more about what it means.
    Can anyone help me with this hurtful situation.

  12. Robert    

    Hello I am at my wicks end. My doctor found out that I was getting extra Hydrocodones from another doctor. I signed a Pain contract and forgot to tell my VA doctor that I have gotten some from an out side doctor. This was due to a car accident that I wanted to claim for insurance purposes. Well my doctor cut me off completely. Both of them. I have been taking Hydrocodone 3/325’s four times a day for 22 years for chronic back pain and a failed Back surgery..
    I’ve been off pain meds for 10 days now and I don’t like my life right now. I hope I can make it another 10 days till my next appointment and see if my health care provider will change his mind. IN THE MEAN TIME I HAVE TO SUFFER!
    Is this fair?

    1. DannyG    

      Robert, My brother, Fair – maybe not. All too often, many ppl suffer bcuz of the actions of a few others. Hang in there, my brother; I personally know what you’re going through! I did it – so can you! PLS, BRO, HANG IN THERE !

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