June has been PTSD Awareness month and I have been writing about the 22 Veteran suicides a day. Last week I was able to announce the release of the PREVENTS task force report and that this week that I would be writing about the 309-page, Supplemental information that accompanied it. Because of family issues I am unable to focus on that information and this week I will provide a more “canned” report using available resources.
In my research I was surprised to find that the information I presented last week about the President’s release of the PREVENTS Roadmap has not been covered by the major Veteran news sources. The only Veterans organization to make a statement about the President’s news conference announcing the report was the AMVETS.
In a release AMVETS National shared, “Last year, President Trump issued an executive order in response to calls for more effective measures to reduce suicide among veterans. While the rate of suicide among veterans overall had plateaued, despite record budgets set aside for mental health and suicide prevention initiatives, women veterans died by suicide at an increased rate when compared to previous years. Following the release of the executive order, the White House Domestic Policy Council commissioned a cabinet-level task force to develop a national roadmap that includes a community integration and collaboration proposal, a national research strategy, and an implementation strategy.
“We’ve eagerly anticipated this Roadmap since the signing of this Executive Order and we finally have a detailed, thorough strategy to combat veteran suicide,” said AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “It’s taken months of collaboration from numerous organizations like AMVETS, it was momentarily delayed due to the pandemic, but now we’re looking at a blueprint to heal American Veterans. It’s time to begin implementing it.”
President Trump also announced the inaugural recognition of PREVENTS Week beginning July 6, which will feature a number of events focused on key areas of engagement with the public, local governments, corporations, organizations, and other stakeholders. I will have more information on this when it is released.
AMVETS Chief Advocacy Officer Sherman Gillums, Jr. echoed Chenelly’s enthusiasm and added, “I’m particularly pleased with the expanded focus on the family. For example, caregivers for disabled veterans and the children of service members bear their own hidden burdens and risks of suicide as they cope with a loved one who may be battling depression or Post Traumatic Stress. It is past time for a whole-health approach to confronting veteran suicide where the responsibility is shared on a broader scale. This PREVENTS roadmap and collaborative approach spreads the responsibility so that we can finally close gaps through which too many veterans fall.”
An Associated Press news release stated, “The $53 million, two-year effort will include a public messaging campaign starting in the coming weeks to raise awareness about suicide at a time of increased social distancing and isolation during a pandemic.
The broad road map also urges outreach by awarding grants to community programs outside the Department of Veterans Affairs, building in part off Trump’s expansion of the private-sector Veterans Choice health program.
Still, it remained unclear how much of the plan could result in immediate concrete action, especially in a presidential election year. Much of the effort will need congressional action as well as cooperation from governors and local groups juggling priorities of public safety and health in a pandemic.
“This is a national call to action,” according to the 66-page plan by a Cabinet-level task force established by Trump last year, which was initially set for release in March. “We seek to reach every corner of our nation, leaving no one behind.”
Currently, about 20 veterans die by suicide each day, about 1.5 times higher than those who have not served in the military. The government says about 14 of those 20 were not under VA care, pointing to a need for improved outreach. White House officials on Wednesday also expressed concern about an even greater risk of suicide due to economic strain and isolation stemming from social-distancing restrictions.
The centerpiece of immediate efforts is a broad public awareness campaign that officials say will be akin in scope to those against drunken driving, focused on dispelling myths such as that it is dangerous to talk openly about issues of mental health and suicide.
The plan urges increased education on gun safety, such as “voluntary safe storage,” and counseling and limiting access to prescription drugs if a veteran is seen at a higher risk of mental distress. VA data suggest that limited health care access, gun ownership and opioid addiction are risk factors for suicide.
It also set a goal of getting employers representing 25% of the national workforce to commit to prioritizing mental health and wellness programs in the workplace. It said so far organizations representing more than 6 million employees have already signed an employer pledge to do so.
Longer term, the task force also proposed broader safety measures to deter acts of suicide. The road map proposes that parking garages, bridges, railroads, and other high-risk areas could be fitted with jump barriers, crisis call boxes, and suicide prevention signage. Still, it acknowledges more research may be needed due to the need for cooperation from local and state governments.
As a PREVENTS ambassador, Vice-President Pence’s wife Karen said, “The PREVENTS initiative will elevate the national conversation on mental health and suicide,” the report states. “We will ensure that our nation’s veterans — and all Americans — know that there is help and hope for those who need it.”
According to the White House, the new task force hopes to create a grant system similar to the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program, which provides funding to state and local programs. The effort, which is being dubbed the PREVENTS Initiative, will also aim to better coordinate research on suicide prevention across agencies, including Veterans Affairs, Defense and Homeland Security.”
In the coming weeks I will take a longer look at the processes that lie ahead to implement this program contained in the PREVENTS Road Map Supplemental report. Stay tuned.
In 2010 the legislation was passed designating June 27 as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) day and in 2014 the Senate expanded the legislation and designated June as “PTSD Awareness Month”. It is estimated that 6.8 percent of adults living in the United States have or have faced PTSD. It is interesting to find that women (10.4%) are twice as likely to experience it because of sexual trauma than men (5%). Veterans are highly likely to face PTSD and statistics reflect the following numbers, Vietnam 30%, Gulf War 10%, and Iraq 14%.
PTSD is a mental health condition that develops because a person has been exposed to one or more traumatic events. These events include physical or sexual assault, war-related experiences, man made or natural disasters, auto accidents, or threats on the person’s life.
While creating an awareness of the PTSD condition it is important to recognize the symptoms the person may be exhibiting. They include, disturbed sleep because of dreams exhibited by “striking out” and profuse sweating, recurring flashbacks and thoughts about the “event”, jumping when there are loud unexpected noise (Car backfire, slamming door, fireworks, etc.), and uncontrolled emotions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused isolation to be triggering more issues for those already at risk. National suicide reports show that nearly half of Americans claim some issues injurious to their mental health. A Federal Hotline has shown a 1,000% increase compared to the same time in 2019.
The VA has issued this report, “Before the pandemic, about 170,000 VA mental health appointments were by phone. In April, VA had 768,000 mental health appointments over the phone. VA had the capacity to support about 120,000 remote users in February, said Charles Worthington, VA’s chief technology officer. Since then, VA has doubled that to 240,000 and is closing in on nearly 500,000, he said. In March, VA held 34,000 online video appointments, up 70 percent from February. Telehealth group therapy held 2,700 meetings in March, up more than 200 percent from the previous month.”
PTSD is a condition that affects the whole family. I have always said that the children become a product of their environment and they are subject to the same issues that face their parent. The emotion toll is immense and as a younger age, more difficult to deal with. Many children of PTSD parents will struggle with their own thoughts of suicide. Those in the community who are aware of the parent’s issues should be on the alert for the children even more.
The Forth the of July will bring out the fireworks and loud noises. Please, if you have neighbors that you are aware of who are Veterans, talk with them first. Some may not have issues with the noise but there are ones who will. By the way Molly, my service dog, says to remember the pets who the noise frightens. Most service dogs will “channel” the same reactions to issues and events as does their human.
Be kind and considerate at this time of our country.
NEWS OF NOTE:
AMVETS Post 75 – Has announced they will begin regular meetings and will be observing CDC guidelines. The Post meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Newport Community Center’s Community Room. The next meeting will be Tuesday July 7, 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.
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 102 has reopened the hall on Wednesdays 9 a.m. to Noon. There will be no donuts or food available only coffee and drinks until further notice. Service officers will be available to help with claims or any questions. If you need any information you can call the Hall at (423) 532-8130 (Please leave a message) or Commander Larry Hartsell at 423-623-5112.
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; email@example.com, Facebook/View from the Bunker, or call 423-721-8918.