WILMINGTON — Delaware’s congressional delegation welcomed U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough on Monday for a discussion on suicide prevention and mental health.
The event was part of Democratic Sen. Tom Carper’s annual Veterans Summit at the Wilmington VA Medical Center.
Mr. McDonough said VA is implementing the 2018-28 National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide — a partnership between the Veterans Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The initiative draws on a comprehensive public health approach to organize efforts around suicide prevention and better meet the needs of veterans, which Mr. McDonough said is a top priority. It focuses on offering resources to those in crisis but also engaging with veterans’ mental health before they reach crisis points.
In Delaware, veterans can call the Delaware Hope Line (833-9-HOPEDE) if they need help. VA also has a national Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255), available 24/7.
“The No. 1 takeaway today is that suicide is preventable,” Mr. McDonough said Monday. “For any veteran who is in crisis, please reach out to us. We are here for you and have the resources and tools to help immediately.”
VA estimates that 20 veterans die from suicide each day in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country and the 11th in Delaware.
The partnership seeks to empower veterans by coordinating suicide-prevention activities in the community, implementing research-based communication efforts and increasing knowledge of factors that promote wellness and recovery. Other services promote efforts to reduce access to lethal means of suicide among veterans with identified risk and to provide training to community and clinical service providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he is working with Sen. Carper to pass federal legislation to increase availability to these programs.
“Our military veterans deserve the best mental health care services and suicide-prevention programs, period,” Sen. Coons said. “Too often, veterans in Delaware and across the country still face obstacles to getting the care that they’ve earned.”
Sen. Carper, who served in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves for 23 years, said he has hosted the Veterans Summit for three decades. Following the panel Monday, Delaware’s congressional delegation of Sen. Carper, Sen. Coons and Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, toured the site with Mr. McDonough and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.
The day ended with a small ceremony at the Flags for Forgotten Soldiers memorial on the hospital’s campus.
“Our service members often bring home scars that are not visible and suffer in silence,” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long said. “We have to do better.”