How The VA Can Really Help Reduce Veteran Suicide

BRADLEY C BOWER

One of the many serious issues in our nation is the issue of veteran suicide. Many veterans for many reasons are taking their own lives at far too high of a rate. As a veteran, this bothers me a great deal since these are my brothers and sisters. They’re taking their own lives and that’s something we really should do something about.

The Veterans Administration (VA) says they want to do something about it, and this is what they came up with.

Veterans Affairs officials want to talk about your guns.

Staff working on suicide prevention are planning to increase their focus on the importance of lethal means safety as part of their suicide prevention campaign. On Wednesday, VA officials said that will include more training for staff and more public service announcements for veterans on best practices for gun storage and mental health help.

“We are not gearing any campaign or messaging towards restriction,” Dr. Matthew Miller, executive director of VA’s Suicide Prevention Program, told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “We are gearing our messaging and campaign towards safety, time and space between a person, a firearm and ammunition.

“A [pause] of 10 to 20 minutes can be life saving.”

Oh, they’re not messaging towards restriction, but they’re damn sure still blaming the gun.

The thing is, the VA has itself to blame for at least some of this issue.

See, right now, there’s a massive stigma regarding mental illness in this country. Yet many Americans don’t understand that the term “mental illness” is a broad umbrella that covers everything from mild depression and ADHD to paranoid schizophrenia or other disorders that may make someone homicidal. Just talking about someone being “mentally ill” paints a terrifying picture that’s usually not very accurate.

The VA could work to reverse this stigma. Of course, they’d have to get past their own biases regarding mental illness first, but still, that’s something they could start with.

Removing the stigma and letting people know that asking for help isn’t the end of the world, that it doesn’t make them weak or anything. Maybe point out to them that if they were pinned down, they wouldn’t hesitate to call for close air support from an A-10 with almost 4,000 rounds per minute of BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRT for help and that this would be no different.

Instead, they’re continuing to blame the gun.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are steps gun owners dealing with depression can and should take to make their weapons a bit more inaccessible during such dark times. Those steps should definitely be taken.

However, when that’s the totality of your approach, you’re doing something very, very wrong. Especially when your organization has reported veterans dealing with issues in such a way to deny them their gun rights. By doing so, the VA helped exacerbate the issue. No one trusts them, yet for many vets, the VA is the only medical care they have access to.

Without that trust, the VA isn’t going to help anyone. Not really.