Suicide among veterans is 22% higher than for civilians of the same age according to data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and although a government-funded project is underway to help reduce suicides among veterans, there are other tools that can help veterans at risk of taking their own lives.
On average, twenty former servicemen or women take their own lives every day. Mental health experts believe many veterans commit suicide due to PTSD suffered during active service, while others take their own lives after finding the transition back into civilian life too difficult to cope with - a theory supported by the number of veterans that come into contact with the criminal justice system.
There are support groups that can help reduce suicides among veterans. The Veterans Crisis Line provides a confidential telephone and online chat service, and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides physical and mental healthcare treatment to more than nine million veterans each year. Unfortunately the majority of suicide victims fall outside the VHA healthcare system.
Why are the Majority of Suicide Victims outside the VHA Healthcare System?
According to the Census Bureau, there were 21.8 million veterans in the United States in 2014. Not all suffer mental health issues or have difficulty transitioning back into civilian life, but - of those that do - there is a common misconception that servicemen and women have to have a service-connected disability rating before being able to take advantage of the VHA healthcare system.
Other eligibility myths include veterans must have served in combat or in a war zone to qualify for the VHA healthcare system, and that those with a high net worth will be excluded from the system. Former servicemen and women can find out if they qualify for the VHA healthcare system by completing a short online questionnaire on the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
REACH VET Program Aims to Help Reduce Suicides among Veterans
In order to reduce the number of veterans outside the VHA healthcare system taking their own lives, the Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development has set up a program to increase suicide prevention outreach for veterans at the highest risk of suicide. Currently in its evaluation stage, the “Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health - Veterans Enhanced Treatment” (REACH VET) program aims to enroll 400 veterans with the highest risk of suicide into its initial study group.
The selection of which veterans to include in the study group will be determined by a predictive model that will identify those who are at a statistically elevated risk for suicide, hospitalization, illness, or other adverse outcome. Thereafter, Stage 2 consists of a program of outreach and “virtual external facilitation”, which will continue until September 2019. At the end of Stage 2, data will be collected about the success of the program based on whether it has helped reduce suicides among veterans.
How Rave Guardian Can Support Veteran Support Groups
Although a worthwhile program, REACH VET is limited in its scope. By only enrolling 400 veterans, the program is likely to miss many former servicemen and women at high risk of suicide. These veterans often belong to local support groups or receive help from charitable organizations that do not have the same level of resources as a government-funded program. Fortunately, there is a tool that can help support groups and charitable organizations reduce suicides among veterans - Rave Guardian.
Rave Guardian is an app veterans can download onto their smartphones and then invite family, friends and others they trust to be a Guardian. Typically “others they trust” includes support group councilors or helpline numbers they can contact with just a tap on a screen whenever they feel depressed, anxious or suicidal. Having the app easily accessible on the home screen of their smartphones encourages veterans to use the app, and it is a much quicker way to seek help than looking up the number of a helpline.
Other benefits of Rave Guardian include:
- A safety timer that counts down the minutes to a veteran´s anticipated arrival at their destination. If the countdown timer reaches zero, Guardians are alerted to their non-arrival - lateness being a symptom of an underlying mood disorder such as depression.
- A personal safety profile on which veterans can note any mental health issues they suffer from. This information is displayed to first responders attending an emergency, and can be used to organize appropriate mental health treatment if required.
- Emergency communication with 911 so that veterans can call for emergency medical assistance if a friend is attempting suicide. If the friend has also completed a personal safety profile, 911 dispatchers will be able to advise medical personnel of the circumstances.
To find out more about how the Rave Guardian app can help reduce suicides among veterans, do not hesitate to contact us. If you are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, or you know a veteran in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support on 800-273-8255 and press 1. Alternatively you can chat online at the Veterans Crisis Line website, or text to 838255 for help by SMS.