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2 veterans die by suicide at VA hospitals in GA over weekend

Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population. (U.S. Army Reserve/Released)
April 09, 2019

Two veterans took their own lives in Georgia VA hospitals in non-related incidents over the weekend.

These two suicides come in the midst of an increasing number of veteran suicides and what the VA said is its “highest clinical priority,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The first of the two suicides occurred Friday at the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin in a parking garage. The second suicide happened Saturday at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur just outside the main entrance.

The VA has not yet released any information about the identity of either victim yet, however, an email from VA to the Georgia Department of Veterans Service did disclose that the Atlanta suicide victim was administered aid by the clinical staff and taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

The email also stated, “This incident remains under investigation and we are working with the local investigating authorities. The family has been contacted and offered support.”

An undisclosed source said the victim was a 68-year-old male who had shot himself.

“Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. We are working alongside dozens of partners, including [the Department of Defense], to deploy suicide prevention programming that supports all current and former service members — even those who do not come to VA for care,” the VA said in a statement to the AJC.

Back in 2013, audits at the VA hospital in Decatur connected negligence to the suicides of four veterans there who were denied mental health access.

From Oct. 2017 to Nov. 2018, there were 19 suicides on VA campuses, seven of which took place in VA hospital parking lots.

Eric Caine, director of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester, said, “It’s very important for the VA to recognize that the place of a suicide can have great meaning. There is a real moral imperative and invitation here to take a close inspection of the quality of services at the facility level.”

Suicide rates among veterans have increased. According to USA Today, 20 veterans commit suicide in the U.S daily.

The shortcomings in the mental health care system offered by the VA has been reported to be a major contributor to the number of veteran suicides, an International Journal of Mental Health Systems study found.

The VA itself has admitted its inadequacy.

According to a Nov. 2018 Government Accountability Office report, the Veterans Health Administration only spent $57,000 of the $6.2 million budgeted for suicide prevention media outreach in 2018 due to leadership turnover and agency restructuring.

“By not assigning key leadership responsibilities and clear lines of reporting, VHA’s ability to oversee the suicide prevention media outreach activities was hindered and these outreach activities decreased,” the report noted.

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said, “While we have taken a number of steps to address and prevent veteran suicide, this weekend’s tragic deaths clearly indicate that we must do better. We will redouble our efforts on behalf of our veterans and their loved ones, including our efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues.”