VA, IHS Join Forces to Improve Suicide Prevention Services to Veterans
By Carol Berry
October 22, 2012
Treatment options must be available for military veterans who need care, said Retired U.S. Army General Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, speaking at the National Indian Health Board’s (NIHB) 29th Annual Consumer Conference, September 24-27 in Denver, Colorado.
Accounts of American Indians’ heroism abound, including that of a soldier who flung himself on a hand grenade to save comrades and who received the Medal of Honor posthumously, he said in a keynote speech to the NIHB general assembly.
The much-decorated Shinseki offered a cautionary tale by creating a hypothetical soldier, a Lakota, who had served two combat tours in Vietnam and who developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but held the common belief that “warriors are strong enough to handle the rigors of warfare” before he sought help.
In a current and positive move toward halting veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) are joining forces to improve suicide prevention services, as described in sessions that were part of a Veterans Track, new this year to the NIHB conference program.
Even before the adoption of a formal agreement, the VA Office of Suicide Prevention and the IHS Division of Behavioral Health worked on reducing suicide among the American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) population, NIHB conference presenters said in a session on suicide prevention collaboration.
Males ages 20-24 have had the highest rate of suicide among the AI/AN population—47.47 per 100,000—the highest rate of all racial/ethnic/age groups in the U.S. and often the age group of returning veterans, noted presenters Krista Stephenson, VA deputy national suicide prevention coordinator, and Cleo B. Monette, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, behavioral health consultant at the Bemidji, Minnesota Area IHS.
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Monday, October 22, 2012
There is much the Indian culture can teach the VA and much they can learn from them.