Tuesday, September 09, 2008

VA Suicide Prevention Panel Completes Draft Report
Group Lauds VA's Comprehensive Strategy

WASHINGTON (Sept. 9, 2008) - A blue-ribbon panel has praised the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its "comprehensive strategy" in
suicide prevention that includes a "number of initiatives and
innovations that hold great promise for preventing suicide attempts and

Among the initiatives and innovations the group studied were VA's
Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK. The lifeline is staffed
by trained professionals 24 hours a day to deal with any immediate
crisis that may be taking place. Nearly 33,000 veterans, family members
or friends of veterans have called the lifeline in the year that it has
been operating. Of those, there have been more than 1,600 rescues to
prevent possible tragedy.

Other initiatives noted included the hiring of suicide prevention
coordinators at each of VA's 153 medical facilities, the establishment
of a Mental Health Center of Excellence in Canandaigua, N.Y., focusing
on developing and testing clinical and public health intervention
standards for suicide prevention, the creation of an additional research
center on suicide prevention in Denver, which focuses on research in the
clinical and neurobiological conditions that can lead to increased
suicide risk and a plus-up in staff making more than 400 mental health
professionals entirely dedicated to suicide prevention.

With the praise, the panel also recommended a mixture of more research,
greater cooperation among federal agencies, and more education for
health care workers and community leaders to further strengthen and
share VA's ability to help veterans and their families.

"Every human life is precious, none more than the men and women who
serve this nation in the military," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Dr. James B. Peake. "The report of this blue-ribbon panel, and other
efforts underway, will ensure VA mobilizes its full resources to care
for our most vulnerable veterans."

Called the "Blue Ribbon Work Group on Suicide Prevention," the
five-member group was composed of suicide prevention experts from VA,
the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration. The group was created by
Peake and met June 11-13, 2008.

Among the panel's recommendations to further enhance VA's outstanding
programs, many of which VA has already begun to implement, are:

* Design a study that will identify suicide risk among veterans of
different conflicts, ages, genders, military branches and other factors.
VA has committed to work with other federal agencies to design such a
study within 30 days.

* Improve VA's screening for suicide among veterans with
depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). VA is in the
process of designing a new screening protocol, with pilot test
undertaken during the fiscal year quarter beginning Oct. 1, 2008.

* Ensure that evidence-based research is used to determine the
appropriateness of medications for depression, PTSD and suicidal
behavior. VA's is providing written warnings to patients about side
effects, and the Department's suicide prevention coordinators are
contacting health care providers to advise them of the latest
evidence-based research on medications.

* Devise a policy for protecting the confidential records of VA
patients who may also be treated by the military's health care system.
VA is already developing a plan to clarify the privacy rights of
patients who come to VA while serving in the military.

* Increase research about suicide prevention. VA has announced
several funding opportunities this year for research on suicide
prevention and is developing priorities for suicide prevention research.

* Develop educational materials about suicide prevention for
families and community groups. VA is examining the effectiveness of
support groups and educational material for the families of suicidal
veterans, and producing a brochure for the families of veterans with
traumatic brain injury about suicide, which will be available within 30

* Increase training for VA chaplains about the warning signs of
suicide. VA offices responsible for chaplains and mental health
professionals are studying ways to implement this recommendation, with a
report due by Nov. 1.

* Develop a gun-safety program for veterans with children in the
home, both as a child-safety measure and a suicide prevention effort. A
VA directive establishing the program is being developed, with full
implementation expected during the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2008.

VA is the nation's largest provider of mental health care. More than
17,000 mental health professionals, including dedicated suicide
prevention coordinators in each of VA's 153 medical centers, are
available to care for veterans. The Department's mental health program
this year is funded at more than $3 billion.