The statistics are staring us in the face. They are beyond alarming. They are a call to action.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Each year, over 40,000 citizens die by suicide.
- Nationally, 129 people commit suicide each day – with 1.4 million attempts per year.
- 20 veterans commit suicide each day across the nation.
- The veterans’ suicide rate is more than double the rate of the general population – 30 suicides per 100,000 veterans.
Suicide, particularly amongst our military veterans, must be addressed. That is why, as the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Committee, I am focusing attention on this issue by way of roundtable discussions to be held across the state this summer.
On July 15th, Congressman Scott Perry and I kicked off the roundtable tour, and we were joined by Adjutant General Anthony Carrelli, Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, who chairs the Governor’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention, as well as a number of federal, state, and county officials, local non-profit organizations, and veterans’ service organizations.
The group discussed efforts on all levels of government to combat veteran suicide and how best to coordinate efforts. Of every 20 veterans, 14 receive no VA services. This can be due to reasons ranging from veterans not recognizing themselves as such or veterans simply not knowing how to navigate the host of services available to veterans.
Fortunately, there is a national Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and press 1), which is ready to assist any veteran in a time of need, and there is the Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative for Veterans (STRIVE) Program. So, it is clear – efforts are being made to help our veterans, but the numbers clearly indicate we need to do more.
Roundtable attendees also discussed Public Service Announcements to eliminate the stigma associated with veterans seeking services, changing qualifications for military service as it relates to medication, more comprehensive assistance upon deployment to help with acclimation, as well as additional VA Centers, County Veterans Courts, Veterans Services in Prisons, and Veterans Services Officers – all in order to get veterans the services they need.
There are many factors that can ultimately lead to suicide for any individual, including loss of employment or relationships, homelessness, substance abuse, and changes in physical or mental health.
Veterans can find themselves experiencing any or all of these things when trying to acclimate back into civilian life but especially when compounded with post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) from their time serving on the front lines.
While post-traumatic stress does not automatically lead to suicide, amongst people who have been diagnosed, approximately 27 percent have attempted suicide.
Again, such statistics are very concerning and have lead me to take action to explore what we can do – as legislators, service providers, and even family members of our veterans.
I do not have any preconceived notion as to the outcomes of the roundtables, whether it is legislation, a change in public policy, funding to an organization, or simply promoting awareness, but ultimately, it is my mission to protect Pennsylvanians and to help save lives.
At this time there are three additional roundtables scheduled:
- August 13th in Erie with Congressman Mike Kelly and State Senator Dan Laughlin
- August 29th in Wilkes-Barre with Congressman Dan Meuser and State Senator Lisa Baker
- September 3rd in Pittsburgh with Congressmen Guy Reschenthaler and Connor Lamb and State Senator Pam Iovino
I am also working with Congresswoman Chrissy Houlihan on one to be held at the Southeast Veterans Center in Montgomery County. Information will be available online prior to each roundtable at: veterans.pasenategop.com.
Last year, I worked with my colleagues on the issue of school safety. Following the passage of Act 44 of 2018, the groundbreaking School Safety and Security Law, we held several roundtables across the state to continue learning what our schools ultimately needed to allow them to continue keeping their students and staff safe.
The conversations during those roundtables were invaluable for the work we are doing in Harrisburg, and I am confident that our efforts with veteran suicide will be just as successful as we continue to hear from those with firsthand experience and insight.