New White House suicide prevention plan for troops, vets focus on gun safety
White House officials will unveil their new plan on Tuesday to end veteran and military suicide, with more emphasis on gun safety and expanding mental health options for those in distress.
The plan, designed to guide prevention efforts in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, will also focus on a network of other support services – including financial assistance and employment assistance. – to provide “stability” to people moving from military to civilian life. .
“Suicide reduction cannot be achieved singularly through reactive policy change,” says the new roadmap document. “Rather, it requires a long-term strategic vision and commitment designed to create and implement systemic changes in the way we support service members, veterans and their families across the continuum of risk and good.” -to be.”
The move comes a week before Veterans Day and about 16 months after former President Donald Trump released his administration’s own plan for suicides, a plan that prioritized raising public awareness of the issue of suicide. military and veterans as a way to involve all Americans in prevention efforts.
“Advocacy efforts must be based on valid data, facts and principles,” says the new roadmap. “Public education and awareness efforts should also include opportunities for constructive engagement – suggestions on what people should do with the information or how to help people in crisis. “
About 17 veterans committed suicide per day in America in 2019, the latest statistics available from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Including active duty military, reservists and other associated groups, that number rises to about 20 per day.
The last three presidential administrations have publicly committed to making suicide prevention among military and veterans a top priority and announced a series of new intervention programs. Despite this – and a significant financial investment by Congress in the problem – the rate has remained largely stable over the past decade.
In a message accompanying the report, Biden will acknowledge the frustration surrounding the lack of progress, but insisting that “there is hope” for progress.
“What is needed now is a comprehensive, cross-sectoral national effort – a public health strategy that unites us around a common mission to reduce military and veteran suicide, and sets the steps to get there.” , did he declare.
“It is up to us to do everything in our power to live up to our most sacred obligations. We owe it to the memories of those we have lost, and we owe it to the future of those we might save.
The most potentially controversial part of the new plan revolves around the safety of lethal means and discussions of encouraging people in distress to part with their personal firearms in the name of safety.
About 70% of all suicide deaths in 2019 were due to guns. In recent months, Veterans Affairs Canada officials have stepped up campaigns to educate the public about this potential danger and the importance of gun safety for veterans and soldiers as well as for members of the military. their family and friends.
“Studies have shown that creating environments that reduce risk and improve protective factors where people live, work and play can help prevent suicide,” the report says. “This includes efforts to reduce access to lethal means, including guns and drugs, especially in times of crisis, and to increase safe storage practices for lethal means. “
White House officials hope to develop a new interagency plan – with input from Defense officials, Virginia, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security – on “tackling security awareness.” deadly means, to education, training and program evaluation ”.
The report does not discuss plans to revise gun ownership rules for people with mental health issues, or to require safe gun storage for veterans or the military.
But similar efforts have met resistance in the past from conservatives who view any discussion of gun limits as a violation of constitutional rights.
White House officials also plan to mandate deadly safety training for VA medical personnel – including private sector health care providers treating VA patients – and to increase the training available to ” non-medical counselors, crisis responders, healthcare professionals, family members and other caregivers. “
They also plan to increase ‘toolkits’ to assist troops and veterans interested in the safe storage of firearms, including developing gun locker maps and other storage options. in their communities.
Other priorities outlined in the roadmap include increased efforts to identify people who may be struggling with mental health issues and expanded access to emergency services for them.
“Less access to emergency suicide prevention, mental health and medical care is associated with higher suicide and death rates in the population,” the roadmap says.
This work will include the launch of a new three-digit mental health crisis line next summer. Plans for this began under the last presidential administration, and current White House officials have said the new resource will provide “a critical point of access for the nation to provide effective and efficient suicide prevention crisis services. “.
The roadmap also calls for expanded research and data collection on suicides, a priority also highlighted in the Trump administration.
Officials last year had hoped to close the two-year gap in the release of the latest national data on suicide, but were unsuccessful in the effort. The new plan calls for “the development of a machine-based learning model to estimate weekly suicide deaths in the United States,” with the aim of seeing if the policy changes have an immediate impact.
“Suicide surveillance capabilities need to be improved in order to identify, if not potentially predict, suicide ‘hot spots’ in order to understand and mitigate risk as early as possible,” the document said.
“At the same time, there must be a commitment to develop and test new research or suicide prevention programs based on emerging data on risk and protective factors, and to ensure that all programs have components. program evaluations to measure effectiveness early on. “
The White House, along with Defense Department and VA officials, are expected to hire outside defenders of veterans and the military community to implement the strategy in the coming months.
Veterans facing a mental health emergency can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select Option 1 for a VA staff member. Veterans, soldiers 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, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.