“60 Minutes” Reports on Suicide Crisis, VA Adds Staff and Rescues 26,000.
Two months ago, while holding a workshop on VA disability benefit claim appeals, I promoted VA’s Suicide Prevention Hotline and handed out 50 of VA’s green wristbands (pictured above) with the hotline number: 800-273-TALK.
Unexpectedly, an Iraq War Veteran in the audience voluntarily self-identified how he called VA’s crisis line and a VA mental health professional saved his life. The Veteran was the first to put on a wristband before the visibly moved crowd. That’s what makes my day.
Despite such inspiring moments, the suicide rate among America’s Veterans tragically continues to climb. According to a recent VA report, 22 veterans took their own lives each day in 2010, up from 18 in 2007. On top of that, one active duty service member commits suicide every day, too.
On Sunday, March 3, CBS News’ 60 Minutes ran a poignant, heartbreaking segment on the suicide of Clay Hunt, a 28-year-old Marine and Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran from Houston, Texas who earned a Purple Heart after taking a sniper’s bullet.
In a cruel irony, the handsome, personable Hunt, whose 2011 suicide shocked his family, friends, fellow Marines, and the entire nation, was a superb spokesman for Veterans after appearing in a public service announcement for suicide prevention.
Hunt, who was reportedly frustrated by VA’s handling of his disability compensation claim (likely for posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD), found some comfort in his work for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). But ultimately the VA resources he touted to fellow Veterans were not enough, as IAVA’s Paul Rieckhoff wrote in an poignant essay on Monday.
And since 2007, VA’s suicide outreach efforts prompted 750,000 calls as well as a surprising 26,000 “rescues” of highly distraught Veterans. The total includes a few active duty service members. Any time, day or night, Veterans can contact the suicide prevention hotline (which recently changed its name to Veteran Crisis Line), by calling 800-273-8255. Veterans can text and chat, too, thanks to VA’s recent upgrades.
Bergmann & Moore supports VA’s suicide prevention efforts. Staffing at VA’s suicide prevention hotline call center grew from 13 to 300 during the past five years, according VA’s Dr. Jan Kemp, who heads VA’s Veteran Crisis Line.
Our Veteran claim workshop outreach efforts continue, with a few held each month. I see signs of hope among our Veterans, and one incident in particular stands out that VA’s outreach efforts are starting to work by reaching our most vulnerable Veterans.
In February, while I met with homeless Veterans at a shelter to discuss VA claim appeals (several were lengthy appeals for PTSD or individual unemployability), a Veteran noticed we both wore matching VA suicide prevention wristbands.
The Veteran looked up at me and said, simply, “It works.” I nodded. That’s all he needed to say.
My thanks go to VA’s dedicated professional staff who are saving an average of 13 Veterans’ and service members’ lives every day.