What the White House needs to know about rising veteran suicide numbers

What the White House needs to know about rising veteran suicide numbers

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported that a shocking 21 veterans died by suicide each day in 2017. This is an increase from the previous figure: “only” 20 veterans a day took their own lives in 2016. The problem is even more acute, however, because the total population of veterans in the United States decreased by 2% over the same year. These numbers prompt reflection and, of course, sadness. But I am also angry. Just hours before the VA released this number, I was at the White House providing advice to a new task force: the “President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide,” which goes by the acronym PREVENTS. As we gathered so that experts in veterans issues could provide important feedback to this administration’s marquee program for addressing the veteran suicide epidemic, these new numbers never came up. No mention was made of this report even as we were doing our best to inform Administration efforts. I didn’t know about the increased rate in suicide on Friday morning, but what I told the group was relevant nonetheless: I applaud the “all hands on deck” approach to integrate public and private entities nationally to address suicide — it is the only way that we will truly make a difference in this fight — but we can’t wait until March 2020 to begin. There are legislative efforts moving through Congress right now that begin to address the risk factors that lead to military and veteran suicide. The president set up this task force in March. Our first meeting was in September. In the intervening six months, we lost over 3,000 more veterans to suicide. That is an entire regiment wiped out by the epidemic, which will not slow down while new policies are developed. […]

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