VA Sunshine Healthcare Network
Letter to the Editor: One Veteran suicide is one too many
December 17, 2018
The pain of losing a loved one sometimes feel insurmountable. When a loved one is lost to suicide, it can be even worse. Amidst the tragedy and heartache, there are many unanswered questions – probably the most important being “what could I have done to help or stop this from happening?” The question is a hard one to answer as every situation is different, and the circumstances that drive someone to take their own life are complex.
The article published on December 17 in the Tampa Bay Times about a distinguished U.S. Marine colonel who died by suicide at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center is a heartbreaking story that happens too often across the country. Recent data suggests that 20 Veterans die each day from suicide. Of the 20, only six of those Veterans were users of VA health care services, and only three of the six were receiving mental health care. This information is important as it shows that Veterans who actively engage in services provided by VA are less likely to die by suicide than those who are not.
One Veteran suicide is one too many. As VA’s top clinical priority, we continue to spread the word that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility. VISN 8 facilities employ many mental health professionals who offer services and evidence-based treatments that can mitigate suicide risk. Another important resource for Veterans is the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 press 1) to receive at no cost, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
Across the state of Florida, VA has taken active steps to expand existing partnerships to make additional resources available to Veterans who may be in crisis. Just last week, a partnership was announced between VA, the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, and Tampa Bay Crisis Center. The partnership provides the Tampa Bay Crisis Center with $1 million from VISN 8 to support and expand the Florida Veterans Support Line. The funding provides necessary resources to place Veteran resource management staff and Veteran Peer Care Coordinators at local, non-profit organizations throughout Florida who answer calls from the Florida Veterans Support Line (1-844-MyFLVet).
So, what can you do to help? First, add the Veterans Crisis Line and Florida Veterans Support Line to your mobile phone contacts. Second, share the numbers with others and ask them to do the same. Be there for Veterans and active duty service members who may be in crisis. Listen to what they have to say, ask the hard questions, and assist them with connecting with VA and other important community resources.
VA alone cannot stop all suicides from occurring. That is precisely why we work very hard to educate family members, friends, community partners and others about how they can make the difference for a Veteran in crisis. Be the difference, and be there for a Veteran in crisis.
Dr. Miguel H. LaPuz VISN 8 Network Director
Miguel H. LaPuz, M.D., MBA, serves as the director of the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8). In this role, he oversees healthcare delivery through a system of eight VA medical centers, 60 primary care and specialty outpatient clinics; eight nursing homes; and five domiciliaries across the state of Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.