On February 2, Secretary McDonald and I will host a VA national summit on Veteran suicide prevention. Why a national summit? Because Veteran suicide impacts all Americans and needs to be addressed in a coordinated effort with government and community stakeholders. And, because all Americans, and VA in particular, have a duty to help Veterans suffering from the hidden scars of military service that lead them to think suicide is their only option. We must do better and this summit will help us to determine our future course.
The “Preventing Veteran Suicide – A Call to Action” summit will bring together VA and DoD leaders, mental health professionals, Veteran Service Organizations, Veterans and their families, and other key partners. These national leaders will direct their attention to how we can best help Veterans and their families access appropriate mental health services.
It will be an honor to welcome Susan and Richard Selke, as guests at the summit. Their son, Clay Hunt, was a Marine Corps Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who took his own life in 2011. Congress subsequently passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which President Obama signed in February of last year. Their commitment to improving mental health care for Veterans like their son has been inspiring.
Also at the summit, Senator Elizabeth Dole will discuss the role of Caregivers and Dr. Ron C. Kessler of Harvard Medical School will deliver a presentation on “Researching Risk for Suicide among Veterans- What Are We Missing?” These are just two of the many supportive experts joining us for this important call to action.
We already know that America’s Veterans are at higher overall risk for suicide than the general public. Veterans suffering from conditions like posttraumatic stress, depression, insomnia, and chronic pain are particularly vulnerable. However, groundbreaking research shows us that Veterans who are fully engaged in VA care are at lower risk of suicide than those who are not. It is essential that information about resources for Veterans at risk for suicide is readily available to Veterans and those close to them.
We want Veterans to come to us, but we must also go to them and build effective networks of communication and care across communities and health organizations. We must be far more proactive and creative in our approach. I ask each of you to consider how you can make a difference.
I addressed our efforts yesterday in an op-ed that appeared in the Palm Beach Post and many other papers across the U.S. I encourage you to take a moment and read my op-ed.
I know that by discussing the many aspects of this unacceptable crisis in our Veterans’ lives, we will advance their care and treatment. I will report back to you with another blog following the summit. Thank you for all you do for Veterans each and every day.
Dr. David J. Shulkin is the Under Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs