This editorial was originally published in the Daily Press on 03/25/2019
Even a handful of suicides each year would be too many. The real figure — more than 6,000 annually — is a haunting realization this country must continue to address mental health issues that persist among our nation’s military personnel, regardless of the visibility of the wars they
A concerted public health approach developed and implemented through public and private partners at the national, state and community levels is needed to tackle this complex problem.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act would be one solution toward that goal.
The legislation wending its way through Congress seeks to improve care by bolstering the Department of Veterans Affairs mental health workforce, increasing rural access to care and ensuring veterans have improved access to alternative treatment options such as animal therapy, outdoor sports, yoga and acupuncture.
The bill has bipartisan support that includes Virginia’s Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine as well as U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.
The legislation is named after Commander John Scott Hannon, a retired Navy SEAL from Montana who took his own life following a struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If approved, the bill would give the VA direct hiring authority over some mental health job categories and offer scholarships to mental health professionals as a way to entice them to work at veterans centers.
At least one suicide prevention coordinator would be placed at every VA hospital nationwide.
Veterans living in rural areas would be given greater access to telehealth services — where they can reach a medical professional over the phone or via a live chat — and provide grants to medical professionals to provide mental health services to veterans.
Innovative and alternative treatment options — such as access to animal, outdoor, or agri-therapy, yoga, meditation and acupuncture — would all be funded.
And ultimately, the VA would be held to greater account for the quality of services it provides, taking into account the wait times and red tape that can frustrate the people who seek care in such facilities.
We must help reduce veterans’ risk for suicide before those men and women feel they have exhausted their options and reached a crisis point.
Expansive networks that can reach veterans where they are will help bring desperate service members back from the brink.
These expanded programs will save lives if they are implemented correctly. That’s all we could ask for — services that are reliable and can address the individual needs of each veteran that has considered or attempted suicide.
These service members have performed countless duties to save our lives, and now we must do everything we can to save theirs.
An estimated 20 veterans die by suicide every day, even though their population has steadily decreased throughout the past decade. Of those deaths, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA. That needs to change.
If you are a veteran considering suicide, please make a free, anonymous call to any Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone.
Or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
Begin a confidential online chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or find a VA facility near you by visiting bit.ly/vafacilitiesnearby.
A bounty of other resources can be found at veteranscrisisline.net.
Or, in you live on the Peninsula, consider visiting the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center which operates a walk-in mental health clinic for any veteran in need of immediate help.
Veterans have given their time and talents to protecting this country. This country must show them just how treasured they are by keeping mental health services at the forefront of our consciousness.
This legislation will expand and bolster veterans services, but that does not mean veterans need to wait for it to pass before seeking help.
Now is the best time to take that initial step to speak with a mental health professional. It’s a path well worth the walk.