In the News

Emporia Gazette
Ryann Brooks

Over the weekend, I covered U.S. Senator Jerry Moran’s town hall, where he spoke about the changes coming to the Veterans Administration’s Health care System.

The VA MISSION Act, which Moran worked on with the late Sen. John McCain, aims to improve and streamline care for veterans by giving them more options for care in their home communities.

This also extends to mental health care.

Last year the VA released the VA National Suicide Data Report, which covers the suicide rates of veterans between 2005-2016.

Roughly 6,000 veterans died by suicide per year from 2008-2016. Younger vets, between the ages of 18-34, died by suicide at a rate of 45 per 100,000 veterans. Younger veterans have the highest rate of suicide among veterans, but older veterans represent the largest number of suicides.

Veterans aged 55-74 had a rate of suicide of 26 per 100,000, while nationally, the suicide rate in the same age group is 17.4 per 100,000. According to a National Public Radio report, the rate ticks up even higher for veterans over 85 years old.

Why is this?

NPR says the VA has “focused on finding risk factors that could lead someone to kill themselves, such as isolation, previous suicidal thoughts and access to firearms. Another big risk factor is that older men are also more likely to reject treatment for mental health issues.”

But how much of that rejection is because our veterans can’t access mental health care nearby or in a timely manner? Or because they aren’t accessing VA health care to begin with?

Roland Mayhew, president of the Kansas chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said that 14 out of 20 veterans aren’t in the VA system.

That number was staggering to me, but I’m hopeful that — if the new changes will make it easier for our veterans to access the care they need — veterans who aren’t in the system will sign up and get the help they need.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is a veteran struggling, I urge you to contact the Veterans Crisis Line by visiting www.veteranscrisisline.net or calling 800-273-8255 and pressing 1.

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