Among active-duty troops, there has been an uptick in suicides this year – about one a day, compared with one every 36 hours in previous years, The Associated Press reported earlier this month. Among veterans from all of the nation’s wars, about 18 each day commit suicide.
The Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki said that video conferencing would reduce the distance patients have to travel and make it easier to fit appointments within a busy schedule. He also pointed out that more veterans were communicating with the department’s staff through online chats and text messages, and that the department is encouraging the trend because it reduces the stigma that some patients feel when they seek treatment.
“Shame keeps too many veterans from seeking help,” Shinseki said at a suicide prevention conference.
Shinseki oversees a department that members of Congress have criticized heavily in recent months for overstating how frequently patients are able to see a doctor or other mental-health professional. An inspector general’s investigation found that nearly half of the veterans seeking mental-health care for the first time waited about 50 days before getting a full evaluation. Meanwhile, the VA had been reporting that the vast majority of evaluations were being conducted within 14 days.
Shinseki said the path toward suicide often begins before soldiers take off their uniforms, and that’s why he hopes to integrate the electronic health records used by the VA and the Defense Department by 2017.