Suicide among military personnel, veterans and their families is a public health and national security crisis. Far too many of our country’s veterans and military have died at their own hands, the overwhelming majority of them from guns. Since 2010, more than 65,000 veterans have committed suicide, more than the total number of combat deaths during the Vietnam War and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. These women and men volunteered to serve their country, often under dangerous conditions. We owe them, their families and their military colleagues and veterans a better and more coordinated response to deal with the suicide crisis among the military and veterans.
Suicide is a complex problem with no single cause and no single solution. But it is preventable. Given the multiple factors that can lead to suicide, suicide prevention requires a comprehensive public health approach that leverages the full breadth of the federal government.
Today, the Biden-Harris administration is announcing a series of priority goals and executive actions that will advance suicide prevention efforts. These objectives are described in a new national strategy, “Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide: Advancing a Comprehensive, Intersectoral, Evidence-Based Approach. “
The key elements of this overall strategy include:
Improve the security of lethal means
Suicidal attacks are often brief, and the evidence suggests that they can be avoided if the person in the crisis does not have immediate access to the means to self-harm. The strategy identifies ways to ensure time and space between a person in crisis and their access to lethal means, including guns and medicine. In implementing this strategy, the Ministries of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ) and Veterans Affairs (VA) , as well as the Office of Emergency Medical Services within the Department of Transportation (DOT) will create and implement a coordinated approach to improve the safety of deadly assets. Over the next few months, agencies will work together to educate military personnel, veterans and their families; educate and train health care providers and crisis responders; and assess the effectiveness of existing and new programs that can reduce access to lethal means. This will include the design and launch of a campaign to increase the safe storage of firearms and drugs, and the use of safety planning interventions by vendors.
Improve crisis care and facilitate care transitions
People at imminent or high risk of suicide need access to high-quality emergency care and follow-up support. The strategy increases the need to improve care in emergencies, as well as to provide appropriate care and support as individuals transition from crisis care to follow-up settings, including other services that can help. defuse the crisis and facilitate access to ambulatory care. Emergency care facilities (emergency transport, emergency care and emergency services) play a critical role in stabilizing patients and connecting them to care, and HHS, VA, DOD and DOT will work together to promote a evidence-based risk assessment and safety planning. are used by providers in these settings across the country. Agencies will also expand approaches to help identify military personnel, veterans and their families at risk for suicide, enabling early intervention.
Increase access and delivery of effective care
Ensuring access to evidence-based mental health care dramatically reduces the risk of suicide for people with behavioral health problems, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. The strategy aims to reduce barriers to high-quality mental health care and encourage help-seeking among military personnel, veterans and their families. Strategies include eliminating or reducing user fees for mental health treatment, increasing confidentiality, clarifying fitness-for-duty standards, and training providers in risk assessment and care. evidence-based suicide. Agencies will also identify and eliminate potentially discriminatory practices related to mental health care.
Address risk and protective factors upstream
To reduce the likelihood of a person experiencing a suicidal crisis, it is necessary to address the factors, such as increased financial constraints, lack of housing, food insecurity, unemployment and legal problems, which may contribute or increase. the risk of suicide. Conversely, improving coping and problem-solving skills and supporting connectivity are protective factors that can reduce risk. In driving this priority, HHS, DOD, VA, DHS, ED and DOL will expand federal, state, territorial, tribal and local public and private partnerships to address the risk and protective factors for suicide. This will include an increased focus on promoting economic well-being, reducing food and housing insecurity, and supporting military personnel, veterans and their families in the transition to civilian life.
Increase research coordination, data sharing and evaluation efforts
The federal government invests significant resources in suicide prevention research and the collection of data on risk factors and suicide outcomes. Unfortunately, the data needed to monitor suicide risk and outcomes for service members, veterans, and their families is not currently being shared or integrated between the agencies involved. The strategy will advance interagency research coordination, ensure data integration and encourage the adoption of rigorous program evaluation in all prevention programs. These efforts will improve our understanding of the factors that lead to suicide in the military and veteran community, promote the early identification of risks so that we can better support individuals and communities, and help ensure the effectiveness of suicide prevention programs. . To achieve these goals, VA, HHS, DOD and the Department of Energy (DOE) will coordinate research activities and program evaluation efforts. The agencies will also continue to implement the National research strategy, improving data access and linkages to enable real-time monitoring.
These measures build on an existing foundation of government programs and public-private partnerships, and will serve to accelerate efforts across the federal government. Going forward, these federal priorities will be implemented in close coordination with states, territories, tribes and local governments, as well as in collaboration with industry, universities, communities and community organizations, families and individuals.