A disturbing number of veterans take their own lives in the U.S. On average, approximately 7,300 veterans die from suicide each year.
Despite significant efforts and billions of dollars invested by the state and federal governments across the nation, suicide rates among veterans rose 26 percent from 2005 to 2016. In Florida alone, nearly 600 veterans die from suicide each year at a rate slightly higher than the national average.
Finding a solution to this public health crisis requires an aspirational, innovative, all-hands-on-deck approach – not government as usual. The VA alone cannot achieve effective or lasting reductions in the veteran suicide rate. To make a real impact, federal, state, and local providers of resources must partner together, pool resources, and coordinate care and delivery of services efficiently.
In Florida, we recognize these challenges and are taking proactive steps to break down bureaucratic barriers; working together to form a wide-ranging coalition of government and non-profit organizations who offer resources to veterans in need of our help the most – before they reach a crisis point.
We are proud to say that we are making progress on multiple fronts. This is best demonstrated through the development and growth of the Florida Veterans Support Line, 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838). Supported by the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8), Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Florida Department of Children and Families, and operated by the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, the line provides confidential emotional support and connection to community resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The line is available to all veterans in Florida.
Our work does not stop there. As we continue to move forward together, we are meeting and learning from communities and local organizations about how best to partner with them and leverage the resources they can provide. Likewise, we are proactively working on expanded public health initiatives to align with Presidential Executive Order 13861 “National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide” and opportunities that may become available from the national task force.
We continue to support and promote the abundance of VA resources available to Veterans to include the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1). Like the Florida Veterans Support Line, veterans can call to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
So, what can you do to help? First, add the Veterans Crisis Line and Florida Veterans Support Line to your mobile phone contacts. Second, share the numbers with others and ask them to do the same. Third, visit www.visn8.va.gov/savealife.asp to download and share outreach materials. Be there for veterans and active duty service members who may be in crisis. Listen to what they say, ask the hard questions, and assist them with connecting with VA and other important community resources. Be the difference and be there for a veteran in crisis.
Miguel H. LaPuz, MD, MBA
Network director, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8)
Executive director, Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Clara Reynolds, LCSW, MBA
President and CEO, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay