Late Breaking News
Suicide Rate Drops but Veterans Still Struggle to Get Mental Health Care Cont.
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Depression, January 2012, News, PTSD, TBI
Improving VA’s Image
VSO representatives also emphasized that, if VA expects to reach at-risk veterans, they need to do something about how they market their services.
“The VA has good programs, but nobody knows what the VA does. People barely know the VA exists,” said Tom Tarantino, senior legislator associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “It drives me nuts each time the VA asks me how to reach out to veterans. I tell them to stop reaching out to veterans. Reach out to people. And stop asking me. Ask the people who know how to sell toothpaste.”
It will not always be veterans who come to VA seeking help for themselves, Tarantino said. Wives, other family members and friends often make the first contact. Any ad campaign focused exclusively on veterans will miss this demographic.
VA has taken those recommendations to heart, responded Jan Kemp, PhD, VA’s national mental health director for suicide prevention. “We’ve made huge strides in the past three years providing outreach to younger veterans,” Kemp said. “We realize they communicate differently. We’ve developed a veterans chat service, and just this month we opened a texting service, so people can text the crisis line. It’s having a remarkable response and going really well.”
“We’ve also rebranded the suicide hotline into the Veterans Crisis Line to better portray what we do and reach people. The results have been tremendous,” Kemp said.
VA also has contracted with a national advertising firm to develop message and marketing strategies. The department rolled out new public-service ads last month, targeting veterans at risk for suicide.
One, which was screened by legislators at the hearing, is considerably darker than previous campaigns. It shows a middle-aged veteran tossing and turning in bed, plagued by images of war. The other, considerably more upbeat, is targeted at Operations Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans.
Kemp did have some positive news to give the committee. CDC recently released data from 2009, which shows that the suicide rate among veterans in VA care is decreasing.
In FY 2009, there were 22 suicides among OEF/OIF veterans in VA care. The suicide rate in this group was 47.1 per 100,000. This compares to 32 suicides in FY2008 and a rate of 75.4 per 100,000.
For individuals with mental health or substance use disorder diagnoses, the suicide rate in FY2009 was 56.4 per 100,000, compared with 23.5 among patients without these diagnoses. This continues a steady trend of reducing that disparity. In FY2001, the suicide rate among patients with mental health or substance use disorder diagnoses was 78.0 as compared to 24.7 among patients without these diagnoses
“We’re making a difference,” Kemp said. “Those rates are going down in the group of patients who get mental healthcare in VA.”
Among veterans who do not receive care, however, the suicide rate remains the same, she added. “Veterans are still dying by suicide, which means we have more work to do.”
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