Suicide Prevention is a major topic among Veterans, so much so that there are numerous groups committed to bringing awareness and change to the problem such as Mission22 and Operation Never Forgotten. The Clay Hunt Suicide Act was also a major law signed into effect by President Obama in Feb 2015 to help reduce military suicide rates. A recent study conducted by the Department of Defense shows that in 2014, 20 Veterans a day committed suicide (Department of Defense, 2015). While this is down from the 2012 number of 22 per day, it is still 20 Veterans a day too high. One of the points of the study, however, was the fact that only 6 of the 20 Veterans who committed suicide used VA services. This showed that using VA services may help reduce suicide rates among Veterans. VA services can provide such services as therapy and medications needed to assist with problems often lead to suicide and suicidal ideations.
Why do 20 veterans commit suicide a day?
The most frequent causes of suicide were listed by the study as relationship failures and administrative or legal issues. Also to note, only 54% had a history of deployment (Department of Defense, 2015). This shows that utilizing such services as mental health and counseling services offered by the VA could make a difference in saving lives of Veterans. But how do Veterans go about accessing those services if they are not currently receiving them?
How can a veteran at risk get help?
First, if you or a Veteran you know is currently experiencing symptoms that include suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm, or thoughts of harming others, waiting may not be an option.
- Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate crisis.
There are immediate avenues that can also be pursued.
- Veterans Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
- local community crisis centers and referrals are available through any crisis hotline
- your local hospital
- Your local VA Service center
Applying for VA Compensation benefits
Please be aware, navigating the VA system can be difficult but it can save lives. Getting assistance to help work through the system and be supportive is imperative for Veterans who experiencing suicidal or psychiatric issues. A strong support team can help make the process much easier.
Veterans who are interested in applying for benefits, health or compensation, would need to first check to see if they are eligible for benefits by defining what it means to be a “Veteran.” To be eligible for VA benefits, there are certain criteria someone must meet and just serving in the armed services is not enough to qualify. The first definition is that the Veteran must have served in 1) military service, 2) active duty, and 3) was discharged other than dishonorable. You can see more information about qualifying in our blog article “Eligibility for VA Compensation Benefits – Part 1”.
Applying for VA Health benefits
Veterans may also be eligible for VA Health benefits even if they are not eligible for VA Compensation or Pension benefits. If you or a Veteran you know is experiencing any sort of mental or physical health issues, getting them enrolled in the VA Health program would be a priority over applying for compensation benefits. Often times, untreated physical health issues can lead to a mental health crisis such as depression from chronic pain or an inability to maintain a job or get relief due to lack of medical care. To see if you are eligible for VA Health benefits, you can go to The US Department of Veteran Affairs web site. You can also apply directly online at eBenefits. At the eBenefits website you can start the application process for VA Health, compensation, education, and Vocational Rehab programs.
Getting help to stay safer
By utilizing VA Health and Compensation benefits, Veterans are able to access the health and financial means they often need to deal with the crisis in their lives that lead to suicidal intentions. While the benefits process is often lengthy and overwhelming, once those benefits are in place, they can often make the difference between life and death for some Veterans. There are also numerous agencies available to assist Veterans in filing for benefits and in appealing if they have been denied. The goal in the end is to prevent anymore Veterans from being in a place where they feel that suicide is their only option. There are always other options, let those of us familiar with the system help you find them.
Department of Defense. (2015). Department of Defense Suicide Event Report 2014 Annual Report. Washington D.C.: National Center for Telehealth and Technology.