After two US veterans committed suicide at Veterans Affairs hospitals in Georgia earlier this month, questions were raised about whether the VA, criticized and investigated for failing to provide timely or sufficient help to veterans, is doing enough to solve the problem, WSBRadioAtlanta has reported.
As a veteran myself, I often hear from other veterans that the Veterans Affairs (VA) is high on the list for reasons such as denied disability claims, chronic paid, PTSD, etc., is the reason most veterans kill themselves.
Olen Hancock, whose life had faded in many ways, shot himself outside the entrance of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur earlier this month. He was 68.
A day earlier, Steven Pressley, after years of chronic pain, shot himself in the parking lot of a VA hospital in Dublin. He was 28.
At least 22 military veterans died of suicide at VA centers in the U.S. in the last 18 months, including a Texas man who shot himself this month in the waiting room of a VA clinic.
Veteran suicide is an acute crisis wrapped in a national crisis. Between 2005 and 2016, suicide rates in the general population climbed 21%. For veterans, already taking their lives at twice the U.S. rate, it climbed 26%. More than 6,000 veterans are dying by their own hands each year – nearly 20 a day.
The latest deaths renew questions about whether the VA, criticized and investigated for failing to provide timely or sufficient help to veterans, is doing enough to solve the problem. That is despite making suicide prevention a high priority in recent years.
The VA’s bureaucracy can be daunting for patients. Wait times for new medical appointments at facilities like Decatur and Dublin can approach a month or longer, though any suicidal veteran who wants help is supposed to be seen the same day. Officials for years have promised solutions to angry veterans’ families, the last two presidents and Georgia U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Knowing the reasons behind a suicide is difficult or impossible, even for family members who knew the victim best. Some veterans who killed themselves on VA premises left evidence that they were protesting poor service or other perceived VA shortcomings. Others went in silence. Most die out of the public eye.
The VA said it is investigating the Georgia suicides. It cautions against reading too much into those on VA sites. Suicides take place in public hospitals as well.
Family members say Hancock and Pressley expressed frustration about the VA’s care. Some believe the deaths were a statement.
“I know my son well enough to know if he did this in a VA parking lot, he did it for notice,” said Machelle Wilson, Pressley’s mother. “Something needs to change.”
A bill introduced in Congress on Thursday by New York U.S. Representative Max Rose, an Army combat veteran, calls for the VA to present detailed, up-to-date reports of on-site suicides to lawmakers.
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