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Military Veteran, Now a Congressman, Fighting Veteran Suicides

mast oath

U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL) has seen, first-hand, the impact that war can have on soldiers returning home.

The military veteran served as an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the elite 28th Ordnance Company in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On September 19, 2010, while clearing a path for United States Army Rangers in Kandahar, Mast took a wrong step into an IED along the road. The explosion resulted in the amputation of both his legs and one of his fingers

Mast is committed to doing all that he can to increase mental health resources for veterans and to reduce veteran suicide rates. To that end, he is promoting the unique idea of a pledge to combat suicide among the nation’s veterans.

Troops leaving the service could take a voluntary oath to “to preserve the values I have learned, to maintain my body and my mind, and to not bring harm to myself without speaking to my fellow veterans first.”

The “Oath of Exit” passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 14th as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Part of the pledge would also commit troops who are being discharged to “continue to be the keeper of my brothers- and sisters-in-arms” in addition to the United States and the Constitution.

After his injury and during his recovery, Mast’s father was the one who inspired him by telling him to ensure that the greatest service he gives to the country is still ahead of him.

After his retirement from the Army, he continued working in counter-terrorism and national defense as an Explosive Specialist with the Department of Homeland Security.

His service now continues in the political arena.

Mast is in his first term representing the 18th Congressional District of Florida.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Unique Tool to Help Prevent Veteran Suicides

suicider

By Debbie Gregory.

Suicide prevention is one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) highest priorities. To that end, the VA has launched a new program that uses analytics to identify veterans who might be at an increased risk of attempting suicide.

The program is called Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health- Veterans Enhanced Treatment, or REACH VET.

The computer algorithm combs through electronic health records and identifies factors that indicate veterans who could be a higher suicide risk. Factors include hospitalizations, chronic illness, relationship issues, life changes, socioeconomic stressors and certain medical and mental health conditions.

The program is available at all VA hospitals. Once a veteran is identified, his or her VA mental health or primary care provider reaches out to check on the veteran’s well-being, review their condition(s) and treatment plans to determine if enhanced care is needed.

The VA has worked to develop the program for about six years.

According to the latest VA statistics, veterans face a higher risk of suicide than the civilian population. While veterans made up about 8.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, they accounted for 18 percent of suicides.

An average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day in 2014. Six of the 20, on average, were enrolled in VA health care.

“REACH VET is a game changer in our effort to reduce Veteran suicide,” said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, National Director of VA’s Office for Suicide Prevention. “Early intervention can lead to better recovery outcomes, lessen the likelihood of challenges becoming crises and reduce the stress that Veterans and their loved ones face.”

“This cutting-edge program is saving lives by identifying at-risk Veterans and connecting them with the specialized care and support they need,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

The VA’s suicide prevention resources include the Veterans Crisis Line, which provides confidential support for all veterans, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in VA health care.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: Reducing Military Suicides

Suicide-Prevention-Graphic-2011-v21

By Debbie Gregory

President Barack Obama has signed a bill that aims to reduce suicides among Veterans, active-duty and reserve component troops. The statistics, which have been considered a national tragedy, have been on the rise for more than a decade.

A study released by the Pentagon shows that high-risk soldiers improved with intense behavioral therapy, and had substantially reduced suicide attempts. The study included 152 active-duty soldiers who either had either attempted suicide or were found to be high risk. Those who were given a form of cognitive-behavior therapy did better than their counterparts, who received a more typical form of therapy.

Co-investigator of the study, Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, professor of psychiatry at the UT Health Science Center’s School of Medicine in San Antonio, and retired Army Col. Carl Castro, research director of USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, agreed that this research is ground breaking. “It is the first-ever suicide prevention intervention showing that a brief treatment protocol can significantly reduce future suicide attempts,” says Castro.

Psychiatric diagnoses have skyrocketed more than 60 % since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. More than 4,400 troops have killed themselves over the past 11 years, leaving the military plagued by suicides and increasing psychological problems since 9/11. The number of suicides is quickly approaching the number of U.S. troops killed in the long Iraq war, which stands at 4,489.

The 152 soldiers who participated in the study conducted at Fort Carson, CO, were lower-ranking Anglo men, which reflected the Army’s demographic, and were also similar in other categories that ranged from psychiatric diagnoses to the use of medications. The results could be, as Peterson said “the biggest, most important thing that has happened in suicide research in the military, certainly in the last 10 years, and maybe longer than that.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Reducing Military Suicides: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Clay Hunt SAV Act on to Senate Floor

Senate Floor

By Debbie Gregory.

Last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted to send legislation, aimed to combat the high rate of suicide among Veterans, to the Senate floor.

The committee’s play comes just over a week after the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act was reintroduced in the Senate, after overwhelmingly passing in the House twice within a month’s time.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act was named for a 28 year-old Marine Corps Veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and committed suicide in 2011.

The heavily publicized bill was headed for easy passage in December, 2014, when it failed due to a procedural maneuver by then-Senator Tom Coburn, who has since retired.  Coburn, who claimed that the bill merely duplicated existing VA programs and did not offer enough new resources for its $22 million price tag, essentially killed the bill with a legislative hold that prevented a Senate vote.

Several Veterans advocacy groups and military associations vowed to reintroduce the Clay Hunt SAV Act as soon as the new Congress convened in January, 2015.

And true to their word, the Clay Hunt SAV Act of 2015 was introduced in the House as H.R. 203 on January 7, 2015, virtually unchanged from the measure that failed just days prior. The 2015 bill was passed unanimously in the House on January 12th, and returned to the Senate the next day. So far, there appears to be no opposition to the bill.

On January 21st, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee agreed to send the Clay Hunt SAV Act of 2015 to the Senate’s calendar under General Orders. The Senate could vote on the bill as early as this week.

There are over 8,000 Veteran suicides each year, which averages out to approximately 22 suicides each day.  Currently, the Clay Hunt SAV Act is the leading measure on the table for combating these numbers. Be sure to track this measure and how your elected leaders vote on it by frequenting MilitaryConnection.com and www.Congress.gov.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Suicide Screening: By Debbie Gregory

militay suicide screeningMilitary doctors are looking to reduce the number of suicides among service members with psychiatric conditions by implementing a new screening system that flags those who are at the highest risk of taking their own lives.

Most suicide screenings are questionnaires that are dependent on truthful answers from people who often feel the need to hide their true symptoms and intentions for fear of retribution. The questionnaires also offer little-to-no help in combining factors to predict suicide risk.

Doctors have known for years that mental health patients are at a high risk of suicide in the months after leaving the hospital. Military researchers wanted to know what, if anything, those who did commit suicide had in common. They thought that a great way to proceed would be the pooling of databases of the patient’s military and medical records.

The research team analyzed the records of 40,820 service members who were hospitalized at least once between 2004 and 2009 for a mental health disorder. Researchers found that 5% of the sample patients tested 15 times more likely to commit suicide during the first year after being released from the hospital than the rest of the test group.

The team formulated a list of more than 300 factors that could be related to suicide risk, including age, access to weapons, military rank, history of substance abuse, IQ, clashes with leadership, combat experience, PTSD diagnosis, and marital status.

Through their study, researchers were able narrow the list of factors down to those that together identified the 5% at highest risk, resulting in more than half of the suicides that occurred within the entire group in the year following hospital discharge.

Some of the shared factors among those at higher risk were expected, such as previous suicide attempts, contracting a traumatic brain injury, and a history of using weapons. But other factors, such as an enlistment age older than 26, and having a higher I.Q., came as a surprise.

Researchers believe that if the new prediction program can be integrated into the military’s medical system, it could allow doctors to follow high-risk soldiers closely after discharge, allowing them to take preventive measures. These measures could include outpatient therapy in the weeks after discharge, working to build social support by enlisting friends and family, and teaching coping mechanisms to deal with overwhelming feelings.

This type of suicide screening is not likely to be immediately useful for civilian hospitals, which do not have nearly as much personal data on patients as the military does.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Suicide Screening: By Debbie Gregory