U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie and Sen. Jerry Moran were in Topeka last week to speak about deaths by suicide among veterans and efforts to address the problem.
Kansas faces big challenges in addressing the problem because of its rural nature and lack of mental health providers. Moran’s proposals in the area include “requiring the Federal Communications Commission to change the 1-800 number for the Veterans Crisis Line to a three-digit code for the benefit of people contemplating suicide,” according to Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter.
He also wants to increase telemedicine access for counseling and bringing in providers from the private sector. Moran especially emphasized the need for timely help, given the urgent need of patients who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
These ideas seem worthwhile. As Wilkie put it, “”The goal here is to find those veterans, particularly in rural Kansas, and get them into this system so that we can help them.”
But there are obstacles to this worthy goal.
One of them was addressed simply by the secretary and the senator visiting Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center. The problem must be named and addressed openly. Depression or other mental health issues shouldn’t be shameful or secret. They can be addressed and resolved, but only with a reduction of stigma and the availability of resources.
The other is a mindset that the only worthwhile solutions come from increasing the amount of private providers in the VA system. As VA patient Jessie James Bell told Carpenter, President Trump has signed the VA Mission Act into law, which is meant to ease the ability of veterans to access private-sector health care services.
In some rural areas this might be a necessity, but investing in and reforming public systems for our nations millions of veterans makes sense too. Veterans fought for a country that provides for those in need — not for maximizing profits of the health care industry.
Our country owes its veterans. These men and women have risked everything to protect and defend us. The least we can do is figure out how to provide the care they need, when they need it, without erecting additional barriers to access.
Moran and Wilkie shined a sorely needed light, but much more illumination is required.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.