With the passage of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act in 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been taking a proactive approach regarding this often neglected spot in many of our veterans' troubled worlds. Canandaigua, New York serves as the central hub for the nation's veterans suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK) that launched in January of 2007.
The Erie County Veterans Service Agency wants you to know that we care. Suicide is the 11th most frequent cause of death in the U.S. - someone dies from suicide every 16 minutes. Suicidal ideas and attempts to harm oneself are the result of problems that may seem like they can't be fixed. Together, Vet Centers and VA Medical Centers stand ready to reach out and help veterans at risk for suicide. Seek professional help...Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention hotline and indicate you are a veteran. You'll be immediately connected to VA suicide prevention and mental health professionals. Below is a list of resources for veterans who experience crisis and for those who are looking to help.
Veterans and Military Suicide Prevention Resources
Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline
Suicide Prevention Lifeline is staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day to help in an immediate crisis. After one year of operation, 62,000 veterans, family members, and friends of veterans have called the Lifeline. Of those there have been 1,400 rescues to prevent possible tragedies. VA has opened a Mental Health Center of Excellence in Canandaigua, NY, which focuses on developing and testing clinical and public health intervention standards for suicide prevention.
Each VA Medical Center has a suicide prevention coordinator to make sure veterans receive needed counseling and services. Calls from the Lifeline are referred to those coordinators. The Buffalo region's veteran's suicide prevention coordinator is:
Joan M. Chipps
Suicide Prevention Coordinator
VA Western NY Healthcare System
3495 Bailey Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14215
The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act
The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act of 2007 directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. The bill is named for an Iraq veteran who took his own life, and recognizes the special needs of veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and elderly veterans who are at high risk for depression and experience high rates of suicide.
Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Network
The DoD page is a resource center aimed at providing authoritative and problem-specific information about suicide prevention. Death by suicide has reached epidemic proportions. Each year 30,000 Americans take their lives by suicide. While the military suicide rate is substantially lower than that of age- and gender- matched civilians, it is still a significant cause of death in the US Military. It can be difficult to know how to help someone who is at risk for suicide, or more commonly, a suicide attempt. Getting the best information available may lower the threshold of distress detectable by others, and inform how best to be of assistance when suicide is suspected or discovered.
The mission of this effort is to improve readiness through the development and enhancement of the Army Suicide Prevention Program policies designed to minimize suicide behavior; thereby preserving mission effectiveness through individual readiness for Soldiers, their Families, and Department of the Army civilians.
Even the most motivated and well-trained Marines can find themselves in difficult situations. These situations, while infrequent, can weigh heavily on each Marines mind. The Leaders Guide for Managing Marines in Distress is designed to provide guidance and tools to leaders on what to look for, what to do and specific resources for helping Marines who are in distress.
AAS is a membership organization for all those involved in suicide prevention and intervention, or touched by suicide. AAS is a leader in the advancement of scientific and programmatic efforts in suicide prevention through research, education and training, the development of standards and resources, and survivor support services.
The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP) represents the combined work of advocates, clinicians, researchers and survivors around the nation. It lays out a framework for action to prevent suicide and guides development of an array of services and programs that must be developed. It is designed to be a catalyst for social change with the power to transform attitudes, policies, and services. The NSSP Goals and Objectives for Action was published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May of 2001, with leadership from the Surgeon General.
Suicide Prevention Week is a national event to raise awareness about suicide and suicidal behaviors and to celebrate the efforts of all who are working to prevent suicide. Suicide Prevention Week takes place in September in order to synchronize with World Suicide Prevention Day hosted by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO).
Veterans Suicide Prevention Video Center
A five-month investigation found vets were more than twice as likely to take their own lives than Americans who never served. Armen Keteyian reports.
In a recently filed lawsuit, the Department of Veterans Affairs is accused of deliberately misinforming the American public about the number of veterans committing suicide. Armen Keteyian reports.
Alarming numbers of veterans are taking their own lives, in many instances due to post-traumatic stress, but the VA system appears ill-equipped to help them. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.
Lidia Bernik, Director of Network Development for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline talks about losing her sister Ren to suicide. Lidia also speaks about the work she now does for the Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has partnered with YouTube to offer suicide prevention resources to the YouTube online community. Lifeline content on the new YouTube Abuse and Safety Center includes information on what to do if someone on YouTube may be at risk of suicide or if someone posts harmful messages about suicide on the site.
Featured Article: Veterans Suicide Prevention
Abandoned Heroes Series
by Sergio R. Rodriguez
Deputy Director, Erie County Veterans Service Agency
"Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark."
- Rabindranath Tagore
Veterans Suicide Prevention
At its best, the suicide rate amongst veterans is alarming. In reality, it has become a silent epidemic that most of us have simply come to ignore. The time to face this sad reality has come and went. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The opportunity to make amends for our past inactions appears to knock harder today than it ever has in the past.
With the passage of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act in 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been taking a proactive approach regarding this oft neglected spot in many of our veterans' troubled worlds. Meanwhile, Canandaigua, New York serves as the central hub for the nation's veterans suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK) that launched in January of 2007. Joan Chipps, who is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the VA Healthcare Network Upstate New York that serves over 120,000 veterans, sat down with the Erie County Veterans Service Agency for an interview to discuss this very important topic.
Before we discuss the findings of the revealing interview I had with Joan Chipps, I first thought it appropriate to address some of the basic facts and statistics regarding the current state of suicides amongst the veteran population. There are a lot of data that travels around the internet world and it is important to locate the right sources. My research efforts focused on those sources that come from reputable and established news organizations. There is a lot to take in, and the figures that paint the bleak picture resulting from these are nothing short of staggering, if not depressing.
A Disturbing Trend
"We lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida."
A Department of Defense owned publication named American Forces Press Service found that an estimated 5,000 veterans commit suicide each year. The report, written by Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden, also found that Iraq (OIF) and Afghanistan (OEF) war veterans are 35 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Additionally, 2008 proved to be a banner year of sorts, as 128 activated Army soldiers took their own lives - the most since 1980, the year in which I was born.
According to a North County Times report based on statistics supplied by the Marine Corps, the suicide rate amongst combat Marines doubled in 2007. The relationship between the time served in combat and the increased rate of suicides have been linked by mental health experts. A recent analysis of new military data conducted by the Morning Sentinel, a newspaper from the State of Maine, uncovered what they could only term as a "shocking trend: U.S. Army suicides outnumbered all combat deaths in January of this year ". Paul Reckhoff, who heads the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization, upon learning of this, puts it into perspective: "We lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida."
It is easy to see the potential impact that the lack of suicide prevention awareness can have here in the State of New York. The New York State Department of Veterans Affairs has provided the Erie County Veterans Service Agency with a list that includes 71,000 New Yorkers as having served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Yet, the war is not over, and there are many more on the way. Currently, over 11,000 New Yorkers are deployed in support of OEF and OIF.
"Everyone plays a role is saving people's life"
Interview with Joan Chipps
Alyssa Ersing, our Assistant Service Officer, and I, visited the Buffalo VA Medical Center on a brisk winter morning in February for an interview with Joan Chipps, the region's Suicide Prevention Coordinator. Joan holds a Master's Degree in Social Work and is a Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW). Her degree and previous experience in dealing with psychiatric patients at the VA Medical Center in New York City have prepared her to deal with these types of cases - which quite literally are a matter life and death. Joan appeared delighted about sharing her insights and spreading the word about veterans suicide prevention.
Joan discussed with us the Department of Veterans Affairs' Suicide Prevention National Hotline (1-800-273-TALK) and other resources available to veterans experiencing a crisis. The hotline is headquartered about 90 miles away from the City of Buffalo, in Canandaigua, NY, and began in early 2007. Joan, along with other VA staff members, assisted with staffing for the hotline by handling crisis calls as they were getting the center up and running. Respondents at the center field calls from all over the nation. Since its inception, the call center has handled nearly 100,000 calls from veterans, their family members or friends. It is just one of the many ways in which the VA is trying to help veterans who suffer from depression or are in distress. Communication is very important amongst the staff. Each worker tries to stick with the same case in order to maintain continuity and build trust from the individuals who seek counseling.
Joan realizes that when dealing with veterans who exhibit suicidal symptoms, it is important to recognize that, although there are certain ways to respond to specific situations, each require a different approach. A one-size-fits-all method of responding to a potential victim of suicide just simply does not exist. She prefers to hear the facts from the vets rather than rely solely on the medical records. Each case requires the full attention of a trained staff and their ability to adapt to meet the needs of a specific client or emergency caller. Yet, not all suicides preventions require a call to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. There are things that you can do to help also. "Everyone plays a role in saving people's life" said Joan.
"Most suicides are preventable"
What we can do to help
Suicides go heavily underreported. Joan points out that "there are twice as many suicides per year, as there are homicides". The media, and a public which often craves 'meatier' topics, are largely to blame for this. The stigma surrounding suicides also play a major role in the lack of exposure to this issue. Some cultures view it as a sign of weakness. Sometimes religious belief is a factor or it can be considered by some families as a sign of failure which brings shame to them. Yet, it is difficult to ignore the fact that it takes a lot of courage to commit such an act.
There is a wide range of reasons why some people choose this avenue. They vary from substance abuse to mental illness. It can also be financial hardships or personal relationships. Sometimes social support is a resource that is non-existent with many of these individuals. Not having any one to turn to, or a safety net, some find it hard to see a clear alternative. How a person grows up and internalizes their experiences is major contributor, or deterrent, to what drives this very much avoidable rationale and frame of thinking. No segment of society is spared. However, the hardest-hit demographic is comprised of elderly white males.
There is hope, says Joan, who wants the public to know that "most suicides are preventable". She asks of those who are close to a victim in crisis, to "be alert and don't be afraid to ask questions or jump in before it's too late". The person can be a close friend, a family member or anyone who cares enough about a person to just ask.
Being aware and alert requires us to look for certain signs. A person contemplating suicide often expresses feelings of hopelessness. They sometimes give away possessions. Alcohol or an untreated mental illness can lead to depression, triggering the dire state of mind. Loss of social relationships can be a factor. Unusual or constant talks about death, or easily being agitated can also be tell tale signs. If you know someone experiencing some of these symptoms, do not be afraid to ask questions. The hotline will also provide ways in which you can help. So call if you have questions.
The suicide prevention hotline has played a big role in preventing suicides. So far, they have "rescued" more than 2,600 veterans. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days of the week. Joan and her staff of four, which include two full-time care managers and a program support assistant, are on call for veterans in crisis from 8 AM to midnight. Her team, located at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, also welcomes walk-ins. And they want you to know that they care and are here to help if a veteran in crisis should ever need anything.
"Outreach is very important"
"Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."
- Harriet Beecher Stowe