“If we lose one veteran it is far too many.”
A hearing in the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs addressed the issue of, “Veteran Suicide Prevention: Maximizing Effectiveness and Increasing Awareness.”
Representative Tim Walz of Mankato is Ranking Member of H.V.A.C., and he shared the story of 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran who reached out to the V.A. Crisis Line in February because he was dealing with thoughts of suicide.
“He explained that he had access to firearms nearby and he feared for his life,” Walz said, “He expressed a sense of hopelessness, confusion, sorrow regarding his personal and professional life.”
He told counselors that his significant other of two years had recently asked him to move out, and Miller stated that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder made it hard to deal with those family and financial stressors.
Miller was directed by the crisis line to go the emergency department at the Minneapolis V.A. hospital, which he did immediately, but Walz said Miller did not get the proper mental health treatment under the V.A.’s suicide intervention best practices. Miller was discharged after three days, and Walz said clinicians didn’t take basic steps like making sure he didn’t have a surplus of guns or medications he could use to harm himself.
“Justin steps out of that hospital on that cold winter day in February, away from the nurses, the doctors, and medications that could have assisted in stabilizing him. He went to his car and tragically took his life. He was not found until the next day,” Walz explained.
Walz called it “infuriating” that the possibility was there that could have prevented this and said the entire healthcare system failed Miller. He added, “We can do better, and we will.”
A report released this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the overall suicide rates of veterans is down slightly but there was a dramatic 10 percent increase in suicides among younger veterans – those ages 18 to 34 – between 2015 and 2016.
To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option one for a V.A. staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.