Veteran Suicide Rates Reach Record Levels, Officials Say: “We Have To Do Better”

The numbers are absolutely horrifying: every day roughly 20 military veterans take their own lives.

The Defense Department reported a significant increase in the last year in the number of active-duty and reserve men and women who died by suicide. The suicide rate among veterans ages 18 to 34, shot up dramatically from 2015 to 2016, data shows.

“The trend is not going in the direction that we want. It’s extremely concerning,” said Karin Orvis, director of the Pentagon’s suicide prevention office. “We have to do better.”

In an effort to combat this horrible atrocity, the Trump administration is wanting to tackle the issue of mental health, particularly the stigma surrounding the seeking of treatment.

This from the Washington Times:

Top officials from the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, joined by specialists from across the private sector, gathered this week to search for solutions to what has become one of the most persistent, painful and frustrating crises facing the military community. Although the nation has grappled with veteran suicides for more than a century — officials note that some of the first academic research on the issue appeared in 1915 — many of the core challenges remain.

Trump administration officials say a key factor is a reservation about addressing mental health care.

“In the military, there’s always been a reluctance to address those issues,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told The Washington Times during an interview. “But with many issues, certainly complicated ones, just starting to talk about it is a step forward. People would run from this label, mental illness. Families would panic, communities would panic. It’s amazing to me that we’re not any farther along.”

“If we just focus on the last tragic act in a veteran’s life as opposed to looking at the continuum of events that can lead to that — homelessness, addiction, mental health issues — then it’s just another federal report. It becomes a doorstop,” he said.

In June, the White House launched the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) task force, an initiative aimed at implementing the first government led national strategy to confront the root causes of veteran suicides.

The most recent VA data is incredibly troubling. From 2005 to 2016, the veteran suicide rate increased by 25.9%, while the overall American adult population rose to 20.6%.

The group aims to flood different media outlets with information on veteran suicides, and mental health. “The key to good public health is saturation,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, the task force’s executive director.

While some will say the government needs to do more, the argument could be made that the solution is much simpler. Maybe we just take the time to make sure our friends, neighbors, and relatives are truly “ok”.

“There is no single path to suicide. There is no single path to suicide prevention,” Matt Miller, acting director of the VA’s suicide prevention program, said in an interview. “All of us keeping our eyes and ears open, all of us willing to connect at whatever level with whomever is right in front of us — that’s going to help address a national problem.”

We have to help our veterans, and that starts with the thing we are able to control: ourselves.