Sunday, July 10, 2016

VA Conducts Nation's Largest Analysis of Veteran Suicide

VA News Release
07/07/2016 09:01 AM EDT

VA Conducts Nation's Largest Analysis of Veteran Suicide
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has undertaken the most comprehensive analysis of Veteran suicide rates in the U.S., examining over 55 million Veteran records from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation. The effort extends VA's knowledge from the previous report issued in 2010, which examined three million Veteran records from 20 states were available. Based on the data from 2010, VA estimated the number of Veteran deaths by suicide averaged 22 per day. The current analysis indicates that in 2014, an average of 20 Veterans a day died from suicide.
"One Veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy," said VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. David J. Shulkin. "We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of Veteran suicides to zero."
The final report will be publicly released later this month. Key findings of the analysis will include: 65% of all Veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.
Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults. This is a decrease from 22% in 2010. Since 2001, U.S. adult civilian suicides increased 23%, while Veteran suicides increased 32% in the same time period. After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21% greater for Veterans. Since 2001, the rate of suicide among US Veterans who use VA services increased by 8.8%, while the rate of suicide among Veterans who do not use VA services increased by 38.6%.
In the same time period, the rate of suicide among male Veterans who use VA services increased 11%, while the rate of suicide increased 35% among male Veterans who do not use VA services.
In the same time period, the rate of suicide among female Veterans who use VA services increased 4.6%, while the rate of suicide increased 98% among female Veterans who do not use VA services.
Please also see our Suicide Prevention Fact Sheet at the following link: Prevention Fact Sheet New VA Stats 070616 1400.pdf
VA is aggressively undertaking a number of new measures to prevent suicide, including: Ensuring same-day access for Veterans with urgent mental health needs at over 1,000 points of care by the end of calendar year 2016. In fiscal year 2015, more than 1.6 million Veterans received mental health treatment from VA, including at over 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics and 300 Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling. Veterans also enter VA health care through the Veterans Crisis Line, VA staff on college and university campuses, or other outreach points.
Using predictive modeling to determine which Veterans may be at highest risk of suicide, so providers can intervene early. Veterans in the top 0.1% of risk, who have a 43-fold increased risk of death from suicide within a month, can be identified before clinical signs of suicide are evident in order to save lives before a crisis occurs.
Expanding tele-mental health care by establishing four new regional tele-mental health hubs across the VA healthcare system.

Hiring over 60 new crisis intervention responders for the Veterans Crisis Line. Each responder receives intensive training on a wide variety of topics in crisis intervention, substance use disorders, screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment.

Statement by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald on the Commission on Care Report

From The VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
07/06/2016 7 7; 74 AM EDT

WASHINGTON - Today, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald released the following statement on the Commission on Care final report. The report is available here.
"On behalf of the Nation's 22 million Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs, I thank the members of the Commission on Care for their hard work over the past year. The Commission has produced a wide-ranging set of recommendations on reforming the Veterans Health Administration, and VA looks forward to reviewing and considering these recommendations as we ensure that we remain true to our mission to serve and honor the men and women who are America's Veterans.
"While we will examine the report closely over the coming weeks and respond in a more detailed fashion, I am pleased to see that many of their recommendations are in line with our MyVA efforts to transform the VA into a Veteran-centric organization. Necessary transformational progress has been under way for the past two years, increasing access to health care and improving the Veteran experience of VA. This past March, VA set a new record for completed appointments: 5.3 million inside VA, 730,000 more than in March 2014. We also issued twice as many authorizations for care in the community than in March 2014. Clinical workload is up 11 percent in the past two years. Nearly 97 percent of appointments are now completed within 30 days of the Veteran's preferred date; 22 percent are same-day appointments; average wait times are five days for primary care, six days for specialty care, and two days for mental health care. Nearly 90 percent of Veterans surveyed say they are "satisfied or completely satisfied" with the timeliness of their appointments. "However, until all Veterans say they are satisfied, I won't be satisfied. Nobody at VA will be satisfied. But our progress so far proves that VA's current leadership, direction, and momentum can produce the necessary transformation, as VA has already demonstrated in reducing the backlog of disability compensation claims by 90 percent since 2013.
"We know we can't complete the job without help from our partners. For that reason, I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, Veteran advocates, and Veterans themselves to identify further ways to improve VA.
"There are some things that can be done right now to help us continue our progress. Congress must act on our proposals to consolidate our Community Care programs, modernize and reform the claims appeals process, and pass the bi-partisan Veterans First Act. The window of opportunity is closing fast, but if Congress acts before leaving town this month, 2016 will be the year the nation turned the corner for Veterans.
"In the meantime, as we review the recommendations of the Commission, we will continue to look for other ways to build on the progress we've made to date and ensure we are doing everything possible to faithfully serve those who have served this country."

To: The New York Times Editorial Board

Dear Editorial Board,
I read, with great interest, your “Opinion Page” Editorial from July 7, 2016: “Heal the V.A. (But First, Do No Harm)”. I was directed to your Article through the Vietnam Veterans of America’s newsletter (via email). As a consumer of the Veterans Health Administration’s (V.H.A.) product, I found it refreshing that someone in the mainstream Press is finally starting to get to the root problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
For the past six years, I have been attempting to come up with a solution to these problems in order to keep the V.A. alive and well. The purpose this Agency serves for Veterans is one to be thoroughly understood before a “fix” can ever be concocted and implemented. It may be difficult for a non-Veteran to fully understand why the V.A. needs to exist. The answer to this question comes best from a Veteran, and not from a bureaucrat or bean counter.
The V.A., especially the V.H.A., is sacred ground when it comes to the Medical and Mental Health needs of Veterans. There is a pervasive feeling that, once having served in the Military, there is little in the way of understanding between Veterans, civilians, and the private medical/mental health sector. Veterans feel more at ease in a setting filled with other Veterans (people who “get” them).
From my perspective, a bottom up look at fixing the V.A. is the only appropriate avenue of approach. Top management problems in this bureaucracy are only symptoms. The root causes lie in the very structure of this behemoth. Secretary Bob McDonald and his Staff are working with a structure from the 1930’s and trying to utilize 21st Century protocols and regimens. It’s a little like trying to mix oil and water. To truly change the V.A. toward the best interests of our Veterans, one needs to change the antiquated structure that leads to a culture of arrogance, indifference, abuse, inefficiency, and chaos.
Unfortunately, Congress does not have twenty years to attempt a transformation of this system. Best practices would dictate the immediate assembly of qualified Hospital Administrators to reconfigure the parts that currently exist and add, or subtract, parts where necessary. It may also help to include a working Veterans Advisory group that mirrors the common U.S. Military Veteran. In his testimony to the Congressional Commission on Care, Secretary Johnson admitted; “We know we can’t complete the job without help from our partners. For that reason, I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, Veteran advocates, and Veterans themselves to identify further ways to improve the VA.”[1] Why not get started right now?