Summit focuses on important topic

Published 9:07 pm Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Suffolk was privileged earlier this month to host one of six statewide summits on preventing veteran suicide.

The Regional Military Culture and Suicide Prevention Summit was one of six such events being held throughout the state this summer as part of the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Challenge. Virginia was one of seven states that accepted the challenge from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The Aug. 7 event brought together mental health service providers from across the region — from Williamsburg east, including the Eastern Shore — to train community providers on the special issues of military culture, special resources that are available to veterans, and the like.

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For example, providers learned to ask whether a person or their immediate family member has ever served in the military, rather than if they are a veteran. Some veterans do not identify with that word, since to some it connotes a long period of service or having served during war or in a combat zone, and they may not answer that question in the affirmative.

Providers also learned about resources specific to veterans that are available locally, such as the Orders Home program. Managed by Brian Preston and also including John Howard, Hector Garcia, Robert Cohen, Ladrena Martin and Lindsay Maldonado, this program is important in helping veterans connect to the services and resources for which they are eligible.

With about 22 veterans dying by suicide every day, the mental health of veterans is a critical topic that cannot be ignored. In Virginia, especially, where one in 10 citizens is a veteran, and in Hampton Roads, where one in five is a veteran, this topic cannot be ignored.

According to a 2016 report by the VA, male veterans have a 1.4 times higher rate of suicide than the adult, non-veteran male population. The rate is 1.8 times higher for female veterans than for adult, non-veteran females.

While suicide is a problem across all demographics, veterans especially suffer a higher rate of suicide. After their service, they deserve to be seen and heard in the mental health community in a meaningful way. The summit earlier this month helped make sure that can happen in Hampton Roads.