VA promises more steps to address veteran suicides

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A new Veterans Affairs Department task force will focus on improving mental health services following a report that noted an increase in the suicide rate among veterans.

Robert Petzel, the under secretary for health at the VA, says (.pdf) the agency has developed a taskforce that will provide recommendations for innovating mental health care services and training in suicide prevention techniques. The taskforce will provide Petzel with "a full report with identification strategies and patient-centered focused health care options" by March 1.

Petzel is responding to a Feb. 1 VA report (.pdf) that says roughly 22 veterans killed themselves each day in fiscal 2010, up from a recent low of 18 in 2007. It notes that, while rising, veteran suicide rates have not increased as quickly as suicide rates among the general population.

The report says that preliminary evidence for fiscal 2012 shows a decrease in the rate of non-fatal suicide attempts for service members using Veterans Health Administration services. The same data shows a decrease in repeat attempts during the following 12-month period.

The report says that most veteran suicides are among those age 50 years or older and that most who call in to the Veteran Crisis Line are men between the ages of 50 and 59.

For the crisis line, the VA says fewer veterans call in currently thinking of suicide, meaning the need for rescue services for callers has decreased.

A follow-up report is expected in May 2013 once that VA and Defense Department's joint "Suicide Repository is completed and additional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is obtained and analyzed," says Petzel.

For more:
- download the "Suicide Data Report, 2012" (.pdf)
- download Petzel's response (.pdf)

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