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VA San Diego Healthcare System

 

VASDHS tackles local suicide numbers

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man sitting, looking down with both hands on his head
Thursday, August 30, 2012

It was a moment of fate that saved Veteran Richard’s life. During a chance passing of Richard’s car in a carport, a friend found him unconscious and not breathing. Quick action saved his life, but the danger was far from over. The friend learned of Richard’s attempts at suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning, and contacted the Veterans Crisis Line for help. The friend was connected with the San Diego VA Suicide Prevention Program and brought Richard to the local VA Medical Center for help. Through treatment and case management, he’s now on his way to living a stable life.

Richard’s story is common among Veterans living in San Diego and Imperial Counties. During this fiscal year so far, 126 local Veterans have attempted suicide according to the VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) Suicide Prevention Program. Of that number, 22 completed. Nearly as many Veterans – 18, carry out suicide every day nationwide for a variety of reasons. Those reasons commonly include financial reasons as Veterans integrate into civilian life; substance abuse; mental and physical injuries sustained from traumatic experiences in the military; disintegrating relationships and poor support structure as a Veteran falls on hard times.

“When we began in 2007, all the calls were from older Veterans,” said Paula Saltz, suicide prevention coordinator for VASDHS. “Now, almost half of the number of crisis calls we receive are from Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi freedom Veterans. Even with a greater number of younger Veterans calling, suicide rates are still higher as a Veteran gets older. No matter the Veteran's age or period of war, we remain focused on providing equal access to VA treatment and resources.”

VASDHS is increasing its mental health resources to help Veterans deal with stressful issues that may contribute to suicide:

  • Over the summer, 32 clinicians were hired to provide faster service for mental health appointments.
  • VASDHS also introduced web camera mental health teleconferencing last spring at VA outpatient clinics for Veterans living too far from their VA medical center.
  • VASDHS will expand this program on Sept. 4 to provide secure mental health appointments directly at a Veteran’s home via webcam. Advantages include better convenience, and more expanded reach to Veterans who are confined due to injury.
  • VASDHS plans to open up the Aspire Center in early 2013. The center will provide residential Veteran treatment for mental health issues.

These latest measures fall in line with national VA efforts. Since 2006, the VA has increased the number of mental health professionals by 48 percent. Since 2009, the VA mental health budget has increased by 39 percent. More recently, the hiring of 32 local clinicians is part of 1,600 additional mental health providers being added to VA medical centers across the nation.

National Suicide Prevention Week is September 9-15, 2012. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800)-273-8255. Press “1” for Veterans.