In a testimony to a Senate panel on Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said that his agency is working towards the prevention of veteran suicides.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee had been mounting pressure on Wilkie to know what efforts were being taken by the Trump Administration to avert the increased number of suicides amongst ex-military service members.
The committee’s top Democrat Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) said, “We’re here today because suicide is a national health crisis. [The] VA needs to do more. Congress needs to do more. Everyone needs to do more.”
During the testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Robert Wilkie said “Suicide is a national public health issue that affects communities everywhere. Just as there is no single cause of suicide, no single organization can end veteran suicide.”
“We must work side-by-side with our partners at all levels of government and in the private sector to provide our veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need,” Wilkie added.
Robert Wilkie, whose name was suggested by some Republicans as the next defense secretary, also said that 70 percent of veteran suicides are caused by firearms. However, he asserted that his agency would step up the efforts to prevent such firearms-related suicides.
“The goal is to build time and space between the impulse to harm oneself and the act,” he said.
Not being convinced with the secretary’s promise, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, “The time and space between someone who overdoses on prescription drugs, you have hours. For someone who uses a gun, you have no time.”
To which Robert Wilkie replied that he wouldn’t object if the legislation decides to take away the guns from the people, who might pose a threat. He also highlighted the importance of educating the military service members about mental health issues. He said a basic training should be given to those in military to recognize the signs of depression or any sort of mental illness.
“Educating family members is absolutely key in things as simple as gun storage,” the secretary said.
Alarmed by the situation and the increased number of deaths, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said that the “stats don’t seem to be changing much. We haven’t done a good job in lowering our numbers.”
Executive director of the Suicide Prevention Program at the Veterans Health Administration Dr. Keita Franklin, who testified along with Robert Wilkie, highlighted the improved services of the veteran suicide prevention hotlines.
Franklin told Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson that the veterans were being provided with support on the same day itself. Wilkie added that the average wait time for the callers had been reduced to 8 seconds.
The lawmakers of both the parties concluded that more efforts need to be put in to prevent veteran suicides.
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