ORIGINAL STORY — A feature story by reporter Marissa Harshman in the Roseburg News-Review looks at suicide intervention at a Veterans Administration regional facility in Oregon through the eyes of Rick, a veteran who struggles with addiction and is intermittently suicidal but is being kept safe on an outpatient basis. Staff at the Roseburg VA Medical Center rely on several interrelated approaches to “intervention to help identify veterans who have suicidal thoughts and to offer assistance to those who continue to have such thoughts.”
The VA has implemented a program called Operation SAVE, which has trained more than 450 employees at the local medical center on how to help a veteran who is in a crisis … [The center] is also offering to teach members of local organizations — whether affiliated with veterans or not — the skills outlined in Operation SAVE.
The VA also added a veteran-specific option for vets who are calling the National Crisis Hotline [1-800-273-TALK / 8255]. Those veterans are then connected with a local suicide prevention coordinator.
In addition to the hotline, doctors are asking all veterans when they are seen if they have had thoughts of harming themselves, and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are screened for various mental health issues upon their return.
Another new program at the VA flags the medical records of a veteran who is identified as being at high risk of attempting suicide. The flagging system is internal and does not hinder a veteran’s care, [said Colleen Denny, VA Roseburg Healthcare System suicide prevention coordinator] … If a veteran in the system who is flagged misses a scheduled appointment without calling to cancel, VA staff try to contact the veteran or other known family members. If the veteran cannot be reached, police officers are dispatched to the home for a welfare check.
“It’s saved lives already in this facility,” Denny said.
Rick is one of the veterans served by the Roseburg Medical Center who has been helped by the facility and its partners to the extent where he maintains an ongoing safety plan that he can count on if he is in danger of relapse or suicide.
Rick has developed a safety plan and said he has the steps memorized … The plan teaches [him] to recognize warning signs.
For Rick, those warning signs include depression, isolation and thinking about drinking. Rick’s plan also outlines what he can do when he recognizes those warning signs; he talks to people he can trust or attends substance abuse support groups. Just a few weeks ago, Rick said he started to notice the warning signs, so he spent a couple of days just visiting with veterans and employees at the VA medical center, which he calls his safe place.
The plan also lists people to whom Rick can turn for support and whom he can ask for help. In addition, the plan identifies risks — such as guns, prescription drugs, or other means of harming oneself — and looks for ways to reduce those risks, such as removing guns from the home or having a friend or family member manage the veteran’s prescriptions.
“Those are the preventative things I have to do in order to live,” Rick said.
The national hotline serving veterans was recently highlighted during a House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee oversight hearing in September.
According to VA statistics, as of August 2008, the hotline had served 32,854 veterans, family members or friends of veterans and “led to 5,980 referrals to Suicide Prevention Coordinators for follow-up for the problems that led to the call, and 1,628 rescues, calls to police or ambulances for immediate responses for those judged to be at imminent risk.”
SPNAC readers can listen to audio recordings of the subcommitteee hearing.
[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/KeepVetsSafe .]
[Related SPNAC post: “Combat Vets Have Own Site To Meet, Get Help“]