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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
February 2018
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Opinion
by U.S. Senator Dean Heller
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Streamlining Veterans’ Access to Mental Health 

 U.S. Senator Dean Heller
U.S. Senator Dean Heller

Nearly two years ago in August 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its first-ever count of suicides among our nation’s veteran population, revealing that an average of 20 veterans die by suicide each day.

To get this data, the VA examined more than 55 million veterans’ records from 1979-2014 from every state in the country. Among some of its findings: veterans accounted for 18 percent of all suicides in the U.S. despite making up only 8.5 percent of the population.

As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve fought to ensure that Nevada’s military veterans receive the care, benefits, and support that they’ve earned and deserve. And the area of mental health treatment is a top priority of mine as Nevada unfortunately has the third-highest veteran suicide rate in the country.

While Congress has made great strides in this area – such as passing into law the Clay Hunt SAV Act during the 114th Congress – there’s still more work to be done, and be assured that I’m fighting for increased access to mental health care and suicide prevention services for Nevada’s 300,000 military veterans.

That’s why I’m pleased to report that in the first weeks of 2018, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to assist veterans in Nevada and across the country in accessing mental health care and resources.

It’s important to note that veteran suicide and mental health treatment is not an issue that is exclusive to the most recent generation of veterans, former service members of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In fact, in the VA’s comprehensive analysis I mentioned earlier, researchers found that approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.

Specifically, the executive order directs the secretaries of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security (DHS), and VA to develop a plan within 60 days that provides streamlined access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for veterans and to update the President on the implementation of the plan and outline further reforms within 180 days.

This executive order is critical to reducing the number of veteran suicides in Nevada and across the country. It will help this administration create a roadmap to ensure that those who have bravely worn the uniform can access the care they need for their invisible wounds.

We are grateful and forever indebted to our veterans and that’s why we must never forget what they have done to protect this country and our freedoms.

As a strong supporter of our nation’s military and troops, I will continue to work to ensure that the department is properly equipped to support Nevada’s veterans who are suffering from invisible injuries and to bring down the number of veteran suicides in Nevada and across the country.

I’m encouraged by the focus on this issue within the White House and by the efforts of VA Secretary David Shulkin. I was honored to meet with Secretary Shulkin in Reno, NV, this summer where we discussed increasing access to mental health treatment for veterans, especially those in rural areas. During that meeting, I signed a pledge reaffirming my commitment to preventing veteran suicide.

To any Nevada veteran who is struggling today, know this – you are not alone and there is help available. Veterans and their loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Additionally, the Veterans Crisis Line website is available at www.veteranscrisisline.net/.

As always, it’s an honor to represent you in the U.S. Senate. I have offices in Reno, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., and I encourage you to contact us – we are here to help you.