Veteran health care and, specifically, veteran mental health care is a severe problem in this nation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has over 150 hospitals nationwide and over 2,000 community-based outpatient clinics. Every day, 20 veterans lose their lives to suicide, and this number has not changed for almost a decade.

Despite billions of dollars being funded to VA through Congress, used to hire mental health clinicians, developing and implementing programs and services, all while seeking to increase awareness and provide education to veterans, the same number of suicides each day continues.

We have veteran service organizations that are working on this, government employees, lobbyists, consultants, members of Congress, and yet we cannot find an effective platform to decrease suicides. The fact is that VA is the largest health care system in the United States, but cannot go at this alone. Money cannot solve all of our problems, but people can. We need to do more.

The VA has implemented community integration resources with the assistance of the Department of Defense for veterans and service members to become more connected to mental health professionals and the services they offer.

Veteran and military service organizations have partnered to encourage a larger membership base to create a greater understanding of veteran suicides so these ideas can be shifted to policymakers. Very few public service announcements have been created for our nation to recognize and understand how important this issue is. Employers around the nation have committed to creating offices that would assist veterans with obtaining employment, but oftentimes they lack the knowledge and resources to assist them through employment.

More importantly, we have a shortage of mental health practitioners both at VA and in the public sector to accommodate veterans and their families during crisis. A veterans crisis line and a military crisis line exists for veterans, service members and their families to contact in the event they need to discuss hardships. Much of this population is unaware these hotlines exist, and some prefer to see a practitioner face to face as opposed to talking on the telephone. Now is the time to take things a step further.

Offering weekday and weekend workshops at various locations, developing and widely distributing educational materials, bringing this to the attention of the public through media outlets and developing better law enforcement training when issues arise can be a great start. Community partners need to develop and implement plans to get veterans back into the workforce and to help them through their transition while in the workforce.

Having office spaces in workplaces dedicated toward veteran concerns and needs would be a significant step toward making them successful in the public and private sectors. Active participation in community engagement platforms and social networks is key. Communicate and research other veterans government programs such as Veterans Affairs Canada and those in the U.K. They may have ideas that have worked successfully for their veteran and military populations. Create task forces in communities and throughout local and state government to track veteran populations and help them be successful. Their families rely upon it.

We all need to do our part to understand the life of military families and military personnel. Taking steps to educate what they go through, what they have gone through and their present state upon discharge from service is key to a successful transition from military to civilian life. Partners in the private sector need to step up their game and offer assistance in all ways possible to provide key opportunities to those who have risked their lives to maintain our freedoms.

This is not an impossible feat. Dropping the suicide rate 1 or 2 points can be a big game changer. If we are serious about this issue, we will not only welcome our service members and veterans home, but also take time out of our daily schedules to educate ourselves about them and their military experiences. They have a lot to contribute to society and we cannot neglect to remember this. As a veteran myself, God bless all fellow veterans, service members and their families. Help is available.


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