Legion report calls for action to reduce veteran suicide
Photo by Clay Lomneth/The American Legion

Legion report calls for action to reduce veteran suicide

The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission has released a new white-paper report that calls for congressional action “to improve VA’s tedious hiring process and increase VA’s recruitment, retention and relocation budget” in order to properly staff facilities with mental health care providers to address a veteran suicide rate that remains higher than that of the general population.

Veteran Suicide: A White Paper Report” also urges changes in VA procedure when benzodiazepines are prescribed for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The American Legion remains deeply concerned by the high suicide rate among servicemembers and veterans and is committed to finding a way to help end this public health crisis,” the report states. “The American Legion established a Suicide Prevention Program in 2017 and… is currently reviewing methods, programs and strategies that can be used to reduce veteran suicide.”

In June, VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention released a report analyzing suicide data from 2005 to 2015. Among the findings were that the number of veterans who commit suicide daily in the United States remains about 20 and that suicides are increasing fastest among those who do not use VA services.

The American Legion report concurs that VA services are essential to address what the white-paper report defines as a “public health crisis.” But those services must be expanded to include non-prescription treatment for PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the effects of military sexual trauma, and VA must remove hiring barriers that drive off candidates for jobs in VA and DoD mental health.

The report highlights the over-prescription of benzodiazepines, a class of psycho-active drugs that can have an immediate effect on anxiety, insomnia and agitation but has been known since the late 1980s to cause negative side-effects including dependency and suicidality. The report references a study that found 43 percent of servicemembers who attempted suicide between 2008 and 2010 had taken psychotropic drugs.

“The link between certain dangerous prescription medications and veteran suicide should be recognized, and steps should be taken to reduce unnecessary prescriptions,” the Legion white-paper report states.

The report suggests that lack of access or acceptance of alternative treatments “may cause an increase in patient-care program dropouts and a rise in prescription drug use.” The report also commends VA for establishing its integrative health and wellness pilot program, which offers non-prescription therapeutic activities for patients in some areas, and calls for expansion of the program. “Many veterans have reported great success with veteran-centric treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, martial arts and other forms of complementary and alternative therapies,” the report states.

To view the report, visit here.