The Department of Veterans Affairs released a report Friday revealing that at least 60,000 veterans have died by suicide in the past decade.
Despite assurances and funding millions each year, the agency has repeatedly failed to make a substantial dent in veteran suicide. Until 2017, the agency spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year with advertising agencies to create glitzy advertising campaigns and events to raise awareness, supposedly, without slowing the tide.
Last year, President Donald Trump came under heavy criticism for cutting spending on veteran suicide “awareness” campaigns, citing a lack of oversight.
Maybe they knew the writing was on the wall for such programs.
Do you remember veterans for common sense?
Part of the story that few people remember is the class action lawsuit brought by Veterans For Common Sense and Veterans United For Truth. The court ultimately concluded that she could not get involved in monitoring agency benefits that impact PTSD treatment and suicide prevention.
Rumor has it that agency officials were not being honest with the 9e Circuit on agency data, which influenced the outcome of the dispute.
So, we now know that VA instead spent a lot of money on glitzy advertising and little on genuinely impactful programs or mental health recruiting – at least not substantially.
The National Veterans Suicide Report
GO National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report 2019 showed that even though the total veteran population declines, the data suggests that the suicide rate is increasing.
To deal with the impact of the numbers, VA is using a few new tactics – – to create a new algorithm to calculate the suicide rate of veterans.
A few years ago, the veteran suicide rate was about 22 veterans per day.
VA then changed the way the data was compiled, so we ended up with 20 veteran suicides a day.
Now VA says the new algorithm shows 17 veterans kill themselves a day by removing some of the populations they previously included.
An example of the groups now excluded are members of the National Guard and Reserve who were not activated by the federal government when they served, meaning they are not eligible for VA services.
Meanwhile, the report shows that the number of veteran suicides increased by 2% from 2016 to 2017, an overall increase of 8% since 2008.
VA also mixes suicide patterns among the general population with veteran suicide, and also suggests that the issue is too complex for the veterans mental health agency to address.
Basically, the report reads, “Fixing suicide is really hard,” having spent hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars over the past decade with little to show.
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In a statement, Secretary Robert Wilkie said VA was unable to tackle veteran suicides without the support of local governments.
“The VA strives to prevent suicide among all veterans, whether or not they are enrolled in VA health care,” Wilkie said. “This is why the ministry has taken a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, using clustered strategies that cut across various sectors – faith communities, employers, schools and health care organizations, for example – to reach veterans where they live and thrive. “
Other solutions to prevent suicide among veterans?
Now an obvious solution, at least in my mind, would be for the agency to stop mocking veterans when we are trying to get our benefits. Judge the complaint honestly and transparently. And, do it as fast as possible.
Take the recent stall tactic of Blue Water Vietnam veterans. After decades of fighting, Navy veterans won a massive legal battle to receive benefits for herbicide exposure. Rather than paying, VA pressured its veterans organizations to push for legislation to help it delay settling these claims for six months.
So, as affected Vietnamese veterans die while awaiting benefits, VA is working to delay a few more. Why didn’t VA have a system in place since they knew the agency’s position was completely absurd?
Or, VA could knowingly stop using unqualified medical professionals to perform very complicated disability exams for conditions such as traumatic brain injury.
Back to my only obvious solution. Stop fucking veterans using absurd legal arguments to withhold the money they’re entitled to.
Does this sound like a plan?
Perhaps the second step should be to stop wasting money on cronyism deals with government contractors that offer little tangible benefit to veterans as a whole. Then use that money to hire more mental health experts.
Perhaps the third step could be to develop a hybrid of vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) with the VA home loan to help some veterans buy a small house attached to a small organic farm. I like this kind of idea …
Maybe expand freelance work at the agency and stop fighting veterans for economic freedom as hard as the program has done in the past.
As a veterans rights lawyer representing refused veterans Benefits of vocational rehabilitation, I sometimes suspect that some of his advisers would do well to remember that they were hired to serve veterans and not the other way around.
What ideas do you have that might help?
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. . Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
UPDATE: September 26, 2019 – The original version of this story listed the incorrect nonprofit in the veterans litigation for common sense. The correct co-litigator with VCS was Veterans United For Truth and not Swords to Plowshares.