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Secretary Robert Wilkie’s message for Suicide Prevention Month

September 10, 2018 - 11:27 am
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Hello, I’m Robert Wilkie, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I’m blessed with the opportunity to serve our nation’s 20 million Veterans. Until recently, I was also honored to serve more than 1.4 million dedicated service members, and their families, at the Department of Defense.

Service members and Veterans who have defended our freedom have earned our enduring gratitude. They should have the opportunity to live meaningful, productive lives, in the same freedom and peace that their service and sacrifices made possible for so many other Americans.

Unfortunately, the cost of defending freedom can be tragically high. On average, 20 American Veterans die by suicide each day. Of those, 14 do not seek health care within our VA.

VA is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans, providing some with access to specialized innovative care, that may be unavailable in the private sector. And more and more, Veterans are receiving care through VA.

Ultimately, whether Veterans choose VA, or get care or support from a peer, or a community agency, there is no wrong door when it comes to saving lives. Preventing Veterans suicide is a top priority for VA, the Department of Defense and this administration. Our goal is to prevent suicide among all Veterans, including those who may not receive care from us.

This September, during Suicide Prevention Month, we’re spreading awareness about the risk factors and warning signs for suicide, and helping people start the conversation around mental health and support for Veterans in their communities. During Suicide Prevention Month, and all year round, we encourage everyone to be there from Veterans and service members.

Starting the conversation may be challenging, but reaching out to a Veteran who’s facing a tough time can make all the difference, and it may even save a life.

As part of VA suicide prevention strategy, we deliver targeted support to different populations based on their suicide risk. And we know that service members transitioning to Veteran status face a higher risk of suicide, especially during the first year after separation from the military.

That’s why, this past January, President Trump signed an executive order that created a task force to align the mental health and suicide prevention efforts of VA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. We’re working together, across departments, to expand mental health programs and other resources for Veterans during that critical first year after departing from uniformed service.

Even one Veteran, or service member lost to suicide is too many. VA is working hard to prevent that, through efforts like this critically important executive order, and others. But we can’t do it alone.

Visit: BeThereForVeterans.com for resources to help you be there for Veterans and the service members in your life.

Ending service member and Veteran suicide will not be easy, but we can make a positive difference, if we work together to be there, for all those who have served.

Thank you,

Robert Wilkie