J. Marc Burgess, National Adjutant
New resources in the fight against veteran suicide
As we enter the new year, we can reflect on how 2020 yielded immense challenges to our health, the economy and our social connection.
Many veterans—including the profoundly disabled—who had worked so hard to find purpose and community found their healing outlets suddenly cut off due to COVID-19 restrictions. In far too many instances, veterans spiraled into a crisis.
Suicide among veterans continues to be a troubling reality. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently unveiled its annual suicide statistics, showing no significant change in the rate of veterans taking their own lives, though there was a slight decrease in the rate among those who had recently received care through the VA.
We know there is no single cause. We know there is no single type of veteran who takes his or her own life. And we know that no one-size-fits-all cure will bring an end to the suffering for veterans in crisis or will ultimately prevent suicide entirely.
What we do know is that solving this problem takes a community solution, and we all play a role.
When veterans are in crisis, we must be able to get them the help they need. Late this past year, we were pleased to see the signing into law of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which will help to bolster the VA’s mental health care workforce; increase access to care for rural veterans; and expand access to alternative treatment options like animal therapy, recreational therapy, yoga and acupuncture.
Another piece of legislation that made its way into law before the end of the year was the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which paves the way for the creation of a new three-digit crisis hotline. The Federal Communications Commission had already picked 988 as the number for this hotline, which should be active by July 2022. But before that takes effect, we should all remember to keep the current Veterans Crisis Line phone number (800-273-8255, then press 1) on hand, because you never know when it may be needed.
We are also incredibly excited about a new DAV partnership with Save A Warrior, a nonprofit organization committed to ending the staggering suicide rate plaguing veterans, active-duty military and first responders. Save A Warrior uses a unique approach to help individuals detox from psychological trauma, using best practices from a variety of healing methods. A $1 million DAV Charitable Service Trust grant awarded at the end of 2020 will help construct a new DAV National Center of Excellence in Ohio to help Save A Warrior carry out its important mission.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2021 in terms of new resources and tools that will be at our disposal to combat veteran suicide, but it’s going to take a united front. We must do all we can to support our brothers and sisters with a full and committed community effort.
If you want to find out more about the National Adjutant, you can find his biography here.