Beginning last September, I have written columns to bring awareness to the estimated 22 Veterans taking their own lives every day. While there have been many attempts to curb this epidemic by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and many other agencies and organizations this trend continues. I will be covering some of the newest avenues to bring awareness to this issue, change the lives for those contemplating suicide, and remember those who did not find the help in time.
This week I will briefly share, an Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report, news release from Congressman Roe, information and an update about the Presidential committee formed last March by Executive Order and other local news.
In March of this year I wrote about three Veterans who had taken their lives at local VA facilities. One of these spurred the OIG report I received this week about the suicide at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center (WPB Center). In brief the report stated, “leaders at the WPB Center “lacked awareness” about aspects of patient safety, had several lapses in protocol, that included security cameras that hadn’t worked in years.” It also revealed that, “the hospital staff lacked appropriate mental health training at the time they were treating the Veteran, who was admitted to the VA under the Baker Act.
In response, administrators at the hospitals released a statement that said, “since the time of the review, the WPB Medical Center has taken action on all of the Office of Inspector General’s recommendations. “We continue to reinforce education to all staff and maintain suicide prevention as a priority. As part of our ongoing structural improvement plan, we continue to make upgrades to all areas of the hospital to provide the safest environment for our patients, visitors and staff.
Shortly after these suicides the President signed the Executive Order “National Initiative to Empower Veterans and End Veterans Suicide”, forming a national task force and strategy to address ways to stop Veteran suicides. In July there was a request for information (RFI) from the Federal Registry to help the task force develop their strategy.
This RFI allowed public input, while answering a designed set of questions, that will focus on developing knowledge to deal with the detection of suicidal tendencies, coordinating efforts to identify and help those in need. The RFI comments were closed August 5, I look forward to reading some of the responses.
A conference to gather and share information on dealing with the suicide issue held last week in Nashville, was designed by the VA. The National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, “Is to provide a framework for identifying priorities, organizing efforts, and contributing to a national focus on Veteran suicide prevention over the next several years.”
Since the three suicides on VA property, there has been an accelerated focus and concentrated conversations on how to stop these suicides. Each of us need to join in that conversation and work to provide more awareness to save the lives of those who have served our country. We cannot stop standing up for those who served our country, join the conversation, help make a difference.
H. R. 3495, “Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act”
Another avenue designed to help combat Veteran suicide is H.R. 3495, introduced to Congress on June 26 (Senate companion bill, s1906-116). It would provide, “Financial assistance to certain entities to provide and coordinate the provision of suicide prevention services for veterans at risk of suicide and veteran families.”
It is awaiting the House to return, after their break, to be placed on the Committee for Veterans Affairs. This Bill would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “to provide financial assistance to eligible entities to provide and coordinate the provision of suicide prevention services for veterans at risk of suicide and veteran families through the award of grants to such entities, and for other purposes.”
This week our District One Representative and the Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Congressman Dr. Phil Roe issued a letter to the Committee Chairman encouraging him to place this bill on the upcoming agenda.
The Congressman asked, “That the bill be added to the agenda of a September 11th legislative hearing as “a substantive step in preventing suicide among those who have served” and noted that the bill would “greatly expand the reach of the VA’s suicide prevention programs, enable more at-risk service members and veterans to be identified and supported, and improve coordination among currently disparate resources aimed at the military and veteran communities.” He noted the bill is also supported by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Wilkie.
Statistics show that only about 30 percent of eligible Veterans receive VA health care. Fewer than 50% use any VA services at all. This bill would allow monies to be given to communities and grassroots organizations to reach at-risk Veterans and their families.
Let’s join the Congressman and contact him and other legislators to ask for their support of this bill and others that will help stem the suicides of so many Veterans who have fought for our country and wear the invisible scars.
Those who serve in the National Guard and Reserves are no longer just “Weekend Warriors.” Many of these women and men have served multiple tours of duty in the Middle East combat zones. Those who have served “full time” face the same challenges and stressors when they get back to civilian life as active duty military.
To address these readjustment issues this week the VA and the Department of Defense (DOD) announced they had formalized a partnership that will deal with National Guard and Reserves suicides. This will provide Vet Center counseling, outreach staff and other services to members during training or drill weekends.
“This relationship between the VA and the National Guard further advances the department’s efforts to decrease service member and Veteran suicide,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Vet Center staff will provide counseling and referral to those who may be under stress and at risk for self-harm.”
Suicide prevention is a top priority for the National Guard, which experienced the highest rate of suicide among military components in 2017. Since then, VA has seen a 38% increase in National Guard service members seeking Vet Center services.
The VA’s 300 Vet Centers, 80 Mobile Vet Centers and 24/7 call center provide community-based counseling for a wide range of social and psychological services, including confidential readjustment counseling and outreach and referral to eligible Veterans, active-duty, and National Guard and Reserve members and their families.
To find out more about Vet Centers, or to locate a nearby Vet Center, visit www.vetcenter.va.gov. Newport’s closest Vet Center is located in Knoxville at 1645 Downtown West Blvd #28. You can contact them at 865-633-0000.
RESOURCES:The VA crisis line also offers support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255, VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or send a text to 838255. Other online resources are at www.MakeTheConnection.net and SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
Non-VA sources for help is 911 for local help. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services offers a crisis hotline that offers support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 1-855-CRISIS-1, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1800-273-TALK (8255).”
Next week I will share the story of a suicide in, “Closer to Home.”
NEWS OF NOTE:
AMVETS Post 75 — meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Newport Community Center’s Community Room 433 Prospect Avenue. The next meeting will be tonight, Tuesday September 3 at 7 p.m. Entry will be through the main entrance at 433 Prospect Avenue. You can call the Commander, Richard Holt, at (423) 608-2902 for directions or more information.
Parrottsville Quilt Guild’s Quilts of Valor — group meets the first Saturday of every month at the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 148 Pine Street, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This month’s the meeting will be Saturday September 7. Sheilah would like to invite anyone in the community to join the group. “They will help make the quilts that will be presented to Veterans in the local community to thank them for their service to our country, no experience is needed, and materials are provided.” For more information please contact Sheilah Strobel at 423-623-8340.
American Legion Post 41 has announced that September 20 is National POW-MIA Day. They will be holding a ceremony to honor and remember America’s POW-MIA’s beginning at 10 a.m. The event is open to the public. David Mills, Commander said plans include raising a POW-MIA flag, setting a “Missing Man table”, and awarding a few Quilts of Valor. Plans continue to be made and more information will be available soon.
American Legion Post 41 meets the second Tuesday of each month at the American Legion’s Cocke County Memorial Building 103 N. Cosby Highway. The next meeting will be, Tuesday September 10 at 5 p.m. with a potluck meal, followed by the business meeting at 6 p.m. Entry will be on C Avenue across from the Newport Fire Department. You can call David Mills, Commander at (423) 237-6896 for directions or more information.
Congressman Dr. Phil Roe’s representative Mr. Daryl Brady, announced he will hold office hours in Newport at the Cocke County Courthouse Annex tomorrow Wednesday September 4 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Daryl can also be contacted through the Morristown Office – 1609 Walters State CC Drive, Unit 4 or call 423-254-1400.
Rob Watkins is a totally disabled, Air Force, Vietnam combat veteran. He has worked with Veterans for over 40 years. As a member of local organizations, he continues his path to help others. Please send information, dates for events, two weeks in advance, questions or suggestion; by mail to 565 Caney Creek Road Cosby, TN 37722 or c/o Newport Plain Talk, email; firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.