Prevent homelessness to prevent suicide
After years of steady progress against veteran homelessness, the Department of Veteran Affairs shifted much of their focus to preventing veteran suicide. This may be a response to the need but also to the media and public’s focus on veteran suicides. There’s just one problem – they may be making the problem worse.
One of the biggest contributors to veteran suicides is homelessness. This according to a new study published in the journal Psychiatric Services. Dr. Jack Tsai and others, in their article “Addressing Veteran Homelessness to Prevent Veteran Suicides” point out that veterans with a history of homelessness attempted suicide at a rate more than five times higher than those who had not been homeless. Ideation rates were higher too.
The 2016 VA Suicide Data Report notes that most veterans who die by suicide are not receiving healthcare treatment from the Veterans Health Administration. The outreach and contact with vulnerable veterans may be a key factor in preventing suicide.
Surely an organization the size of VA can do two things at once (I know, I know – they are). It seems short sighted to drop a program that has shown great results and may be making a difference in several areas (homelessness, healthcare, suicide) in favor of a program that may not address all these domains (suicide only). I understand there’s a lot of turmoil at the top but I hope that VA leadership will recognize that a big way to reduce veteran suicide is to reduce homelessness. They need to get after it.