WaPo: Veteran Suicides at VA Facilities Soar

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The Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports: 19 Veteran suicides occurred on VA campuses from October 2017 to November 2018, seven of them in parking lots, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While studies show that every suicide is highly complex — influenced by genetics, financial uncertainty, relationship loss and other factors — mental-health experts worry that veterans taking their lives on VA property has become a desperate form of protest against a system that some veterans feel hasn’t helped them.

Veterans are 1.5 times as likely as civilians to die by suicide, after adjusting for age and gender. In 2016, the veteran suicide rate was 26.1 per 100,000, compared with 17.4 per 100,000 for non-veteran adults, according to a recent federal report. Before 2017, VA did not separately track on-campus suicides, said spokesman Curt Cashour.

Sixty-two percent of veterans, or 9 million people, depend on VA’s vast hospital system, but accessing it can require navigating a frustrating bureaucracy. Veterans sometimes must prove that their injuries are connected to their service, which can require a lot of paperwork and appeals.

From the report:

  • The Trump administration has said that preventing suicide is its top clinical priority for veterans. In January 2018, President Trump signed an executive order to allow all veterans — including those otherwise ineligible for VA care — to receive mental-health services during the first year after military service, a period marked by a high risk for suicide, VA officials say. And VA points out that it stopped 233 suicide attempts between October 2017 and November 2018, when staff intervened to help veterans harming themselves on hospital grounds.
  • A Rand Corp. study published in April showed that, while VA mental-health care is generally as good or better than care delivered by private health plans, there is high variation across facilities.
  • Veterans who take their own lives on VA grounds often intend to send a message, said Eric Caine, director of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester. “These suicides are sentinel events,” Caine said. “It’s very important for the VA to recognize that the place of a suicide can have great meaning. There is a real moral imperative and invitation here to take a close inspection of the quality of services at the facility level.”

FULL STORY: https://wapo.st/2HW9fAI

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