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Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


September is Suicide Prevention Month

Dr. Mark De Santis presenting suicide statistics to law enforcement personnel.

Charleston VAMC Suicide Prevention Coordinator Dr. Mark De Santis educates law enforcement personnel on suicide statistics and how to approach a person possibly suffering a mental health crisis. (Photo by James Arrowood)

By JW Huckfeldt, Public Affairs Specialist Trainee
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

September marks the start of football season, autumn and Labor Day weekend. More importantly, it’s also Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide prevention, especially among Veterans, is a topic that can affect anyone at any time.

The statistics and data contained in a report released in 2016 by VA titled, “Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans 2001 – 2014,” are sobering. One of the many comparisons made in the report showed that, “after adjusting for differences in age and gender, risk for suicide was 21 percent higher among Veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adults.”

Veteran suicide is not only a tragedy—it’s an epidemic. VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin placed suicide prevention at the top of his list of priorities shortly after being appointed. Approximately 20 Veterans commit suicide daily, 14 of which are not enrolled for VA health care. Part of Shulkin’ s reform includes extending emergent mental health care to Veterans who received an Other than Honorable administrative discharge who would not otherwise qualify for VA health care benefits.

The VA is working hard to help Veterans in crisis. In fact, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center was awarded a Community Partnership Award in June by Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh. The award, one of three presented nationally, recognized Charleston VAMC Suicide Prevention Coordinator Dr. Mark De Santis and his commitment to train many law enforcement officers on suicide prevention and Recovery Coordinator Dr. James McDonagh for his trainings on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health.

“When an officer who is also a Veteran engages with a Veteran with suicidal ideations or intent, that officer can make an instant connection because they both speak the same military language. They have a bond,” said De Santis. “A bond exists between Veterans that enables a conversation that initiates the process of establishing trust.”

Dr. Mark De Santis presents to a class of law enforcement.

De Santis and McDonagh have trained law enforcement officers in South Carolina and Georgia, including in Beaufort, North Charleston, Folly Beach, Mount Pleasant, Hinesville (Georgia), and the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department.

Charleston VAMC works closely with the Charleston community to battle suicide. Community partners and Charleston VAMC mental health professionals will participate in a Mental Health Summit at the Lowcountry Veterans Connection Fair on Sept. 8. Maintaining positive relationships with community partners is critical to Veteran suicide prevention.

Veteran suicide prevention therefore is not solely a VA issue, but one that affects entire communities. Again, suicide prevention, especially among Veterans, is a topic that can affect anyone at any time.

Veterans experiencing a mental health crisis are encouraged to call 911 or the Veterans Crisis Line (800) 273-8255 (press 1) for immediate help. VA mental health professionals are also prepared for Veterans seeking emergent mental health treatment at Charleston VAMC and at Vet Centers in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Savannah.


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