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VA Secretary: My Only Clinical Priority Is Decreasing Vet Suicides

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said in an address Monday morning that his only clinical priority at the moment is making sure the veteran suicide rate drops.

“The last priority and really my only clinical priority that I talk about right now is suicide and veteran suicide,” Shulkin said Monday at the 118th Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“All across America, even in the general population, suicide is at an epidemic crisis, a public health crisis,” Shulkin said Monday at the 118th Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention. “You can see since 2001 and 2014 that suicides among all Americans went up 23 percent, but among veterans it went up 31 percent. You can see particularly among females that female veteran suicides went up 62 percent.”

“The difficulty in addressing the issue of veteran suicides is that this can’t just be the VA,” Shulkin continued. “If you take a look between 2001 and 2014, if veterans were using the VA, the suicide went up 5.4 percent. But for veterans who aren’t using the VA, it went up 38.4 percent.”

Shulkin affirmed during his speech the need to work more closely with community groups and organizations like VFW to tackle the suicide problem.

Shulkin also noted that the VA has developed predictive tools to determine which veterans are at high-risk for suicide and assigned employees to give them a call to bring them in for care.

In addition, the veterans’ crisis line, which previously had call rollover rates as high as 30 percent, now claims a call rollover rate of less than 1 percent, according to VA data. In March, the VA inspector general released a report stated that 30 percent of all calls were routed to backup systems. Those backup centers are usually staffed by non-VA employees who don’t have access to health records or have information on specific military services.

In another effort to drop the veteran suicide rate, Shulkin also recently made the decision to offer emergency mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges at any VA medical center. That service began July 5.

“We will continue to focus on new ways to help our veterans,” Shulkin said.

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