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VA to Expand Mental Health Efforts Amid Veterans Suicide Report

The pandemic exacerbated the number of veteran suicides in 2021, according to the department.

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VA to Expand Mental Health Efforts Amid Veterans Suicide Report
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The Department of Veterans Affairs is advocating for a “whole-of-government and whole-of-nation” approach to veteran suicide prevention after suicides among veterans increased per a National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report released last week. The approach calls for partnerships with local and state governments, other federal agencies and the private sector to provide outreach and support to veterans.

The report said veteran suicides increased by 114 in 2021 from 2020, while non-veteran suicides also increased to 40,020 deaths the same year. Prior to 2021, veteran suicides had declined two years in a row.

Between 2020 and 2021, suicide rates fell 8.1% for male veterans aged 75 and older, but increased for other demographics, particularly women veterans, American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.

VA cited pandemic-associated stressors as one factor leading to the the increase in suicides, as veterans and non-veterans alike faced financial strain, housing instability, a rise in anxiety and depression and increased firearms availability.

“We will do everything in our power to learn from this report and use its findings to help us save lives,” VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a press release. “It will take all of us — working together — to end Veteran suicide, and we will not rest until that goal becomes a reality.”

VA has taken steps since 2021 to address veteran suicide and offer support to veterans in crisis, including the launch of the $20 million challenge “Mission Daybreak” to tech companies aimed at developing innovations to reduce veteran suicides in 2022, with the first winners announced in February 2023.

Additionally, the VA has established a hotline for veterans to talk with mental health professionals, partnered with suicide prevention organizations, expanded firearm suicide prevention efforts and conducted a national suicide prevention awareness campaign.

The beginning of the pandemic in 2020 saw an increase in VA remote care services, as its telehealth service saw VHA weekly patient encounters drop 3% for ongoing suicide attempt care and new treatment initiation for suicide attempts drop 30%.

The VA said its efforts have resulted in over “33,000 veterans accessing free emergency health care, a 12.1% increase in use of the Veterans Crisis Line [and] more than 3.5 million visits to VA’s support website.”

 

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