As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough released a message Friday encouraging troops and veterans to seek out care to “prevent tragic losses.”
“It’s important to remember that there is hope. Suicide prevention is possible,” McDonough says in the public service announcement. “And we have made great strides in veteran suicide prevention and intervention. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Both departments have emphasized suicide prevention in recent years, with mixed results. The rate of suicide among veterans and servicemembers is higher than that of American civilians, but researchers have seen decreases in the number of deaths in the latest state and federal data available.
Austin and McDonough said both departments are working on collaborative efforts to address the problem, but added that those solutions will need to include help from the veterans community and the general public, as well.
“Let’s be clear, mental health is health, period,” Austin says in the new message. “And it’s on all of us to end the stigma of asking for help and support when we or someone we know is feeling distressed or anxious, or isolated.
“I want to ask each of you, regardless of rank or title, to stay connected with your friends, and your family members and your teammates. And if you’re hurting, support is within reach.”
An estimated 17 veterans a day die by suicide, according to the latest VA data available. When active duty troops and reservists are included in that calculation, the number is roughly 20 a day.
Veterans can reach the Veterans Crisis line by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255 and selecting option 1 after connecting to reach a VA staffer. In addition, veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.