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Veterans Roundup: The Latest Collaboration in Mental Health, New Numbers on Female Veteran Suicide, How a VA Program Supports Aging Veterans and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Battling Depression and Suicide Among Female Veterans
Jay Price (@JayayWUNC), NPR
New research reveals that female veteran suicide is up 85 percent in recent years, making their rate now almost 250 percent higher than their civilian counterparts. The VA and military, along with advocacy groups like Service Women’s Action Network, are working to find health care solutions for the unique needs of women. The VA is currently implementing a new system that will analyze mass amounts of data to identify more than 60 characteristics to determine which veterans are at an increased risk. While women who seek care through the VA are less likely to commit suicide, of the 20 suicides a day by male and female veterans, on average 14 of those have not sought aid from the VA. Robin Jewell, a sister of a female veteran who took her own life, sees an issue with establishing the connection between the service member and available aid: “Military members aren’t taught to be able to ask for help when it’s time, and therefore the VA system is unable to learn how to provide said help because neither side is connecting.” –KG
Bottom line: One very important data point to continue to keep in mind here is that women who seek care through the VA are less likely to commit suicide, more proof that the VA is working to provide the critical care that addresses veterans’ unique health needs. This, as we continue to have a larger discussion about veterans receiving care outside the VA, and growing concerns about efforts to privatize the VA. While you try to digest some of these alarming numbers, it’s also important to keep in mind what the VA’s Megan McCarthy notes: “One of the reasons we think why women veterans die by suicide at higher rates than civilians do is because they are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm than civilian women. Firearms are a very lethal method of suicide.” The easy accessibility of guns in this country will continue to be a factor for at risk populations and should be a part of the discussion as we talk about suicide prevention. SWAN’s recently released report, Mental Wellness Needs of Military Women, outlining a series of recommendations for addressing some of these alarming numbers, which includes establishing stronger social support groups and networks for military women. Women’s military experiences are different in many ways, from that of men’s, so their transition also needs to be tailored in order to address their unique needs. –CB

White House finalizes plans to stem suicides among recently separated troops
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
In January, President Trump issued an executive order calling for increased counseling and mental health support services for newly minted veterans, who are at a significantly higher risk for suicide. Now, an interagency plan formulated by the Departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs and Homeland Security that promises to reduce veteran suicide rates has been finalized by the White House. With a goal of reducing suicide rates by 20 percent by 2025, the plan will build on the existing support of the DOD’s Military OneSource program, providing increased veteran outreach and expansion of mental health and peer support services. The cost of these changes is unclear, but officials expect the VA health care programs to see more than 32,000 new veterans participating. –KG
Bottom line: This plan isn’t a bad one: it envisions greater collaboration among agencies to ensure service members and veterans don’t fall through the cracks between DOD and VA health care. Perhaps the parts of the 16-point plan that have the most potential impact are ones focused on linking more service members and veterans with VA care–data shows that is a significant protective factor against suicide. This isn’t the first time, though, that an executive order has been the push factor for advances in military and veteran mental health care. In 2012, President Obama issued a similar call for more federal focus on PTSD, TBI, and related mental health issues among service members and veterans. Executive branch attention on mental health has and can and should do a lot to coordinate efforts across the government, but what matters in the end are results. Like the executive order and plan before it, this one sets its sights far into the future. Yet, keeping efforts like this one moving forward also requires a continued investment in the agencies powering it. So while seeing these actions proposed is excellent, we also want to see the necessary backing provided by the White House and Congress. –LJ

VA turns to foster care for veterans instead of putting them in nursing homes
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), The Washington Post
The Medical Foster Home program, a small effort organized by the VA, allows aging veterans to receive care in private homes. Currently, the program only serves approximately 1,000 veterans in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Although it saves the government around $10,000 a month in nursing facility care, the program is difficult to expand due to the strict requirements for foster homes. The program has just more than 700 licensed caregivers. All caregivers are required to pass a federal background check, receive 80 hours of initial training, plus 20 additional hours each year, have no outside employment and allow access for home inspections at any time. Research revealed a 31 percent decrease in VA inpatient hospital admissions for those who participate with the in-home care. –KG
Bottom line: We were happy to see Patricia Kime’s byline in the Washington Post this week with a fascinating story about a little known program that places elderly veterans in foster homes with trained and certified caregivers rather than nursing homes. Research is showing the approach leads to a substantially lower cost to the government and a dramatic decrease in hospital visits as well. Most of the veterans highlighted in the story talked about how happy they were with the set up in someone’s home often with other veterans giving them company and more access to the outside world than a nursing facility. Of course, scale is everything, and the high standards necessary for caregivers to participate makes it tough to recruit but let’s hope it can expand with more awareness. It’s a great example of the many hidden and little known efforts the VA experiments with to care for our veteran population that often goes unheralded amid the cacophony of criticism and crisis. We have a remarkably diverse population of veterans that is rapidly aging and programs like this one are imperative to ensure we care for those that have given to the nation. –FPW

GORUCK’s founder is building a community around ruck marching
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), Connecting Vets
More than 700 participants joined in for GORUCK’s first Star Course 50 Miler held in D.C., with the first place team finishing their 50-mile ruck in just 12 hours and 14 minutes. Of the massive turn out, GORUCK founder and CEO Jason McCarthy said: “Humans are hard-wired. We need to move and we need to be part of a community. Those are the things that make us fundamentally and foundationally happy. So, the veteran community gets this more than most, or more than anyone, because that’s where we come from.” The next opportunity to join the Star Course movement with GORUCK will be in Chicago on June 15. –KG

Exclusive: Unique new hiring initiative focuses on student vets
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times Reboot Camp
Client Student Veterans of America (SVA) and Fortune 500 company Raytheon recently partnered up to launch a new Business and Industry Roundtable. This roundtable includes 23 different companies that are committed to getting involved with SVA chapters, mentor student veterans and hire them after graduating. –SM

Why the HUD secretary says the increase in homeless veterans is concerning
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last Wed.-Fri. (May 30 – June 1, 2018), the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) hosted its 2018 Annual Conference – gathering hundreds stakeholders and advocates to collaborate and share best practices to effectively end veteran homelessness. Keynote speakers included Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thomas Bowman and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Despite the concerning rise in veteran homelessness in 2017, local organizers are hopeful for a decline in that number next year, as Los Angeles has already seen a decline of 18 percent. –AB

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans’ Affairs: Honoring Heroes: Memorializing our Nation’s Veterans.
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, June 07, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Small Business: Vets First? An Examination of VA’s Resources for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
Who: Mr. Scott Denniston, Executive Director, National Veterans Small Business Coalition; Mr. Davy G. Leghorn, Assistant Director, The American Legion
When: 2:00 PM, Thursday, June 7, 2018
Where: 2360 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs: An Assessment of the Potential Health Effects of Burn Pit Exposure Among Veterans
When:
3:00 PM, Thursday, June 07, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Community Opportunities 

Veterans Campaign and University of San Francisco: Master of Arts in Public Leadership
Who: Veterans and military families, but open to anyone interested in public service.
When: Applications open now!
Where: The hybrid curriculum combines online learning with five intensive weekend seminars in the D.C. area.

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 04, 2018 12:08 pm

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