Twenty-two vets commit suicide daily; Bennet-commissioned report aims to address issue
September is Suicide Prevention Month
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet recognized Suicide Prevention Month today by urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work with him to address the staggering number of suicides committed by veterans.
In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Bennet shared a recent report conducted by a panel that he commissioned earlier this year to take a comprehensive look at mental health issues affecting veterans, with the goal of addressing the high rate of veteran suicides.
Bennet asked Secretary Shinseki to “work with my office and the Colorado veteran’s community to implement the panel’s recommendations.”
Bennet’s Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Panel issued a report in July detailing 11 concrete recommendations of ways to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans, including:
- Better connecting the institutions and organizations that serve Veterans in a community
- Better linking Veterans to other Veterans
- Providing more support and information to families
- Enhancing coordination between the VA and communities
- Improving our system so that we can continuously and accurately identify service members with mental health needs
Bennet’s veteran suicide panel builds upon his long history of working for Colorado veterans. In 2011, Bennet convened a Colorado Veterans Forum to identify ways to make Colorado the best state for service members, veterans, and their families to live and work. The recommendations that emerged from that forum were included in a report released later that year, Better Serving Those Who Have Served.
That report called for the creation of a National network of care for veterans modeled after work being done in Colorado Springs to fill gaps that exist between public and private agencies, as well as service providers that support American’s veterans. Bennet introduced a bill to create this network last Congress and is currently working with Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) to introduce similar legislation this Congress.
Earlier this year, he sponsored the bipartisan Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act to improve incentives for private employers to hire veterans. And he recently produced a "Hiring Veterans" toolkit to help link Colorado employers with job-seeking veterans by providing information about where to find veterans and how to apply veteran military skills to the civilian workplace.
You can read the full Veterans Suicide and Mental Health Report here.
A full text of Bennet’s letter to Secretary Shinseki is below:
September 27, 2013
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I write to share the findings of a veteran’s panel that my office convened regarding the high rate of veteran suicides. It is my hope that you can work with my office and the Colorado veteran’s community to implement the panel’s recommendations.
As you know, earlier this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) issued a report, finding that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. In response to this report, our Veterans Working Group asked our office to take a comprehensive look at mental health issues affecting veterans, with the goal of addressing the high rate of veteran suicides.
To that end, we partnered with veterans in Colorado to convene a panel on veteran suicide and mental health. The panel consisted of Colorado Veteran Service Organizations, members of the military, veterans, and mental health professionals. It produced 11 recommendations to address the high number of veteran suicides in the United States.
The recommendations include specific ways to:
- Better connect the institutions and organizations that serve veterans in a community;
- Better link veterans to other veterans;
- Provide more support and information to families;
- Enhance coordination between the VA and communities; and
- Improve our system so that we can continuously and accurately identify service members with mental health needs.
As you will see from the attached report, the Panel’s recommendations go well beyond ways we can improve care for veterans in crisis and instead focus on how we can collaborate across institutional barriers and within communities to provide improved behavioral health care for veterans overall.
I know that the VA is also committed to improving behavioral health care for veterans. Given the seriousness of this issue, I ask that you give the attached report due consideration as it includes tangible steps we can take to make a difference for veterans in Colorado and across the country.
Thank you for your consideration.