A veteran tragically took his own life yesterday at the Cleveland VA Medical Center just outside the facility’s emergency department.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this death,” the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System said in a statement. “Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. One life lost to suicide is one too many.”
The facility cited privacy concerns when asked to provide additional details about the suicide. The immediate response is not unlike that of other facilities where veterans committed suicide on agency property including two suicides in Atlanta and the third in Texas.
Gary Pressley, 29, shot himself in a parking lot with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Olen Hancock, 68, shot himself and died the following day. A third veteran shot himself in a VA waiting room located in Austin, TX.
“Every one of these is a gut-wrenching experience for our 24,000 mental health providers and all of us that work for VA,” Richard Stone, MD, of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) said at the time. Dr. Stone is the Executive in Charge for VHA.
Congresswoman Speaks On Ohio Suicide
“I am heartbroken following the suicide of a veteran outside the Cleveland VA this morning,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH). “The level of pain that brings someone to suicide is fortunately unimaginable to many of us. My sincere condolences and prayers are with the veteran’s family and friends during this immensely difficult time.”
“The fact that 20 veterans a day take their own life – over 7,000 a year – is a tragedy. With seven incidents of veteran suicide on VA property in 2019 alone, 25 in the last 18 months, it’s critical we do more to stop this sustained national crisis. That is why I am working closely with my colleagues in the House and Senate to take decisive action to investigate and bring to an end the epidemic of veteran suicide.”
Veteran Suicide Data
Over 6,000 veterans have committed suicide since 2016. After the recent suicides, VA reiterated that suicide prevention is VA’s top clinical priority.
“The sad thing that we confront every day is that of the 20 veteran suicides that occur across the country 14 of those veterans are outside of our department,” Wilkie said.
“What I’ve envisioned is the opening of the aperture to the states and localities to get them resources to find those veterans. One of the tragedies is that many of those veterans who take their lives come from my father’s era – Vietnam. So we have Americans whose problems in many cases began building when Lyndon Johnson was president. We have to tackle this issue in a way that we haven’t tackled it before.”
Is It A ‘Sad Thing’ To Be Outside VA?
One theme that keeps coming up is the VA’s argument that 2/3 of veteran suicides are by veterans not receiving health care from VA. Somehow, the argument goes, VA will reduce veteran suicides by pushing all veterans into the VA system.
Here’s the thing.
Most veterans do not receive health care from VA, around 2/3. So, it makes sense that around 2/3 of the veterans committing suicide are outside the VA system.
Is that fact alone a bad thing?
On its face, the numbers seem to suggest a veteran is at least as likely to commit suicide who uses VA health care services as a veteran who does not use those same services.
So, is pushing all veterans into the VA for health care the answer to veteran suicide?
It seems unlikely.
About VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System
The Cleveland VA Medical Center serves over 110,000 veterans. It is part of the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, which is part of VISN 10 that serves 685,000 veterans throughout Michigan, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Indiana.
If you are reading this and experiencing mental health struggles, you are invited to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
However, please note that some veterans who call the hotline report that they receive visits from police shortly after calls.