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Sen. Mark Warner's bill aims to prevent veteran suicide: ‘It’s a national tragedy'

“We lose about 17 veterans a day due to suicide.”
Mark Warner 2.jpeg
Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-10 18:07:00-05

RICHMOND, Va., -- Sen. Mark Warner marked a trip to Richmond discussing his efforts to prevent suicides among veterans.

The senator met with senior leadership at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center to discuss wait time reduction and suicide prevention efforts on Monday morning.

“We lose about 17 veterans a day due to suicide,” Warner explained. “That is a national embarrassment. It is a national tragedy.”

Warner (D-Va.) introduced a bipartisan bill to help address veteran suicide and expand their access to mental health services.

“The wait times, which is always a problem for veterans, is down dramatically,” he stated. “An area where there is still a great deal of room for improvement is suicide prevention.”

Warner has worked to provide more funding for private sector organizations that can help on suicide prevention.

Language from his bill, also introduced by Sen. John Boozman (R-Ar.), recently passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as a provision in a comprehensive bill. That legislation passed unanimously and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Warner also visited the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center to meet with staff and residents.

Nearly 200 veterans receive long and short-term care at the Broad Rock Boulevard center operated by Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

Director of Social Services Dana Rivera said the center’s focus is in a new phase of treatment called trauma informed care.

“There are specific questions that we ask. ‘Do you feel down, depressed, hopeless? Do you feel like a failure? Do you feel like you let your family down? Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself or wishing you were dead?’” Rivera explained.

If a veteran answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, staff members then contact psychiatric services and work with the individual to help them.

Rivera, as an Air Force veteran for 20 years, uses her experience to better connect with her patients.

Those patients often return from war or overseas with unseen wounds.

Sitter and Barfoot resident, William Taylor, said he learned about the veteran suicide problem through reading the Army Times.

Taylor served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars before retiring as a sergeant first class after nearly three decades of service.

“In my 27 years, I only remember one person committing suicide,” the 87-year-old recalled. “The order came out, when you see somebody in a car peck on the window and make sure they’re alive.”

“I didn’t realize that it was that bad,” he said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, provides free and confidential support for people in distress.