New York, NY – With veteran and military suicide rates posing a crisis in New York and across the country, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, today stood with veterans, advocates, and medical experts to demand immediate action to better support service members and veterans and ensure they have access to the care they need. More than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have committed suicide in the past six years. According to the DoD’s own reporting, suicide rates for active-duty service members and veterans continue to rise, and spiked to a five-year high last year.
“Suicide in the military community – both among current service members and veterans – is a serious and devastating problem, and it is painfully clear that we are not doing nearly enough to address it,” said Senator Gillibrand, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “That is why today, I am calling for new action to give our service members and veterans the support they need. We need to break down the barriers that stand in the way of service members seeking mental health care, and one way to do just that is to conduct a full review of the vague reporting requirements that prevent service members from accessing critical care. We also need to provide veterans with better support services during their transition back to civilian life. These are just the first steps necessary to combatting the challenges that our service members and veterans face, but they are important ones, and I will continue work to address the unacceptable rates of suicide in our military community.”
“IAVA is grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s commitment to ending the tragic and urgent crisis that is veteran suicide. The numbers are going in the wrong direction. We need to be doing more to address the needs of veterans in transition, and Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the VA is an important step in the right direction,” said Lindsay Rodman, Executive Vice President for Communications and Legal Strategy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
“Our soldiers who risk their lives for all Americans deserve access to mental health care without fear of reprisal and stigma,” stated Elizabeth R. OuYang, former President of Organization of Chinese Americans – New York Chapter.
Following a Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing led by Senator Gillibrand last week, the senator unveiled a new, two-pronged approach to begin addressing this crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug and Abuse, 50 percent of military personnel believe seeking help for mental health issues would negatively affect their career. As such, Gillibrand is calling for a review of the Military Command Exception for any changes that can be made to make mental health care more accessible to service members. The Military Command Exception provides a list of requirements for military mental health professionals to report visits by service members to their commanders. These rules include vague requirements such as: harm to self, harm to others, harm to mission, special personnel, inpatient care, and other special circumstances. In a letter to the Department of Defense, Gillibrand notes that consistent and sustained mental health care is vital to combating the crisis of military suicides, and service members must be able to trust mental health providers to keep confidentiality. A copy of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the Department of Defense is available here.
Additionally, Gillibrand is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to improve the support veterans receive during their transition from military service to civilian life. Periods of transition have been identified as a particularly vulnerable time for veterans and service members. According to the Department of Defense, nearly 40 percent of veterans or service members who died by suicide had either entered or exited service, or had experienced a geographical move in the last 90 days or would in the coming 90 days. Veterans who have left service within the past year are 2.5 times more likely to die by suicide than their active duty counterparts, and this rate is even higher among our female veterans. The program to assist veterans as they transition to civilian life, the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program, currently consists of a meeting with a counselor to identify a pathway once leaving service. The actual training consists of several workshops and classroom sessions that educate service members on areas such as benefits and resources for finding a job, and is approximately 1-2 weeks long. Gillibrand is calling on the VA and DoD to work more closely to build a comprehensive transition program that provides more internships, reintegration programs, and on-the-job training to help veterans as they transition from military service to civilian life. Her letter to the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs is available here.