Late Breaking News
Suicide Prevention Not Working; Returning Troops Could Increase Problem, Report Says Cont.
- Categorized in: Army, December 2011, Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News
Losing the Battle?
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff, was part of a panel at the release of the CNAS and took offense at the report’s title, saying that the military is working to address the suicide issue.
“I do not believe we are losing the battle as the headline states,” Chiarelli responded. “To the contrary, I believe we have made tremendous progress in understanding these very, very complex issues in making sure that leaders and soldiers understand them. I sit through a senior review group meeting, which is once a month for two hours. We review every single suicide in the Army.”
Chiarelli said the challenge of addressing suicide has proven to be the “most difficult” in his 40 years and that the circumstances surrounding each suicide are as unique as the individuals themselves.
“That is what makes this issue so incredibly tough to influence one way or another,” he said. “That said, we have greatly expanded the resources and support services available. We are working hard to eliminate the longstanding stigma associated with behavioral health conditions, and that is not just a military problem.”
Janet Kemp, RN, PhD, VA’s National Mental Health Program director for Suicide Prevention, said that when veterans or servicemembers choose to take their own lives, “we are, in fact, losing the battle.” Still, she maintained that efforts to prevent suicide have made “great strides towards winning the war.”
The problem is so complex that it is not even clear how many veterans die by suicide, according to the report. While the VA estimates that 18 veterans kill themselves every day, this number “is extrapolated from extremely-limited data,” report authors wrote.
Kemp acknowledged that tracking suicide deaths is a problem but said VA is trying to solve it.
“We need to solve the numbers problem,” she said. “We are making huge strides in the VA with our DoD and CDC partners to do that, but it is not happening quickly.”
If active-duty personnel do not report for duty, there is immediate follow-up, which can result in the discovery of a suicide. In the case of veterans who take their own lives, there is no straightforward way for VA to find out, Kemp said.
VA follows up if a patient misses an appointment, but, if the suicide victim is not currently involved in the healthcare system, the agency has to rely on state death certificate data to provide that information, according to Kemp, which notes that not all states collect or report veteran status on deaths to the CDC.
In addition, it is difficult to get that information in a timely manner. “There is a huge time delay,” Kemp said.
“Right now we are working with the CDC to get the 2009 data.”
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