MILLIONS LEFT UNSPENT ON VETERAN SUICIDE

January 23, 2019 at 5:00 am

As mental illness continues to plague veterans, The New York Times reports that millions of dollars earmarked for veteran suicide prevention were never spent. We have the details.

Aired on January 22, 2019. 

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>>> HERE IS A TROUBLING
STATISTIC FOR YOU.
THOUSANDS OF VETERANS SUCCUMB
TO SUICIDE EVERY YEAR.
ABOUT 20 PER DAY,
THAT BETWEEN 2005 AND 2016.
THOSE STATS ACCORDING TO THE
OFFICE OF VETERANS AFFAIRS,
BUT WHAT IS ALSO TROUBLING,
LAST YEAR OF THE $6.2 MILLION
EARMARKED FOR SUICIDE
PREVENTION AMONG VETERANS,
ONLY $67,
000 WAS ACTUALLY USED TO HELP
THOSE VETS STRUGGLING WITH THE
PROSPECT OF SUICIDE.
QUESTIONS THEN, WHY?
HOW?
AND WHO IS TO BLAME?
JOINING ME WITH DETAILS ON
THIS TROUBLING REPORT IS "NEW
YORK TIMES" REPORTER DAVID
PHILLIPS.
THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US.
LET ME START BY GETTING A
SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE,
IF WE COULD.
COMPARE FOR ME WHAT WE ARE
SEEING IN TERMS OF RATES OF
SUICIDES OF VETERANS TO RATES
OF SUICIDE AMONG NON-VETERANS
IN THIS COUNTRY?
>> THE RATE OF VETERANS IS
ALMOST TWICE AS HIGH AS IT IS
FOR THE AVERAGE NATIONAL RATE
AND THE RATE IS PARTICULARLY
HIGH,
MORE THAN THREE TIMES AS HIGH,
FOR YOUNG VETERANS.
SO BETWEEN 18 AND 34.
SO IT'S A SIGNIFICANT
DIFFERENCE.
>> WHAT ARE WE SEEING,
HOWEVER,
IN TERMS OF INCREASE OR
DECREASE IN SUICIDED AMONG
VETERANS OVER THE LAST PERIOD
OF YEARS?
>> THINK WE NEED TO STEP BACK
AND TALK ABOUT SUICIDE IN
GENERAL.
IN THE UNITED STATES SUICIDE
HAS BEEN ON THE RISE SINCE
ABOUT 2000.
AND IN THE VETERAN POPULATION,
AS WELL,
IT HAS INCREASED 25% SINCE
1995 WHICH IS A HUGE INCREASE.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE
DIFFERENT BRANCHES OF THE
MILITARY, IF YOU WOULD,
AND WHERE WE ARE SEEING THE
NOTION OF SUICIDE BECOMING
MORE PREVALENT.
>> WELL,
IT IS MOST PREVALENT AMONG THE
ARMY AND MARINES,
WHICH ONE MIGHT EXPECT IN
TERMS OF COMBAT EXPOSURE,
BUT I DON'T THINK THAT WE CAN
THINK OF THIS AS A COMBAT
EXPOSURE PROBLEM.
THE MILITARY OR VETERANS AS A
WHOLE ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM
THE POPULATION IN THAT THEY
ARE OVERWHELMINGLY MALE.
THEY ARE OVERWHELMINGLY OLDER
THAN THE REST OF THE
POPULATION BECAUSE WE HAVE SO
MANY VETERANS THAT SERVED IN
KOREA,
VIETNAM AND WORLD WAR II AND
SUICIDE IS A MUCH HIGHER RISK
AMONGST MEN AND AMONGST OLDER
MEN.
SO THAT CAN ACCOUNT FOR SOME
OF IT,
BUT THERE ALSO IS A RISK
FACTOR FOR COMBAT EXPOSURE.
IF YOU SAW PEOPLE KILLED,
IF YOU KILLED PEOPLE,
IF YOU WERE UNABLE TO PREVENT
PEOPLE FROM BEING KILLED,
THAT CAN REALLY WEIGH ON
PEOPLE FOR A LONG TIME.
>> LET ME TALK ABOUT OTHER
SCENARIOS THAT I SEE PLAYING
OUT HERE.
ONE OF WHICH I MENTIONED IN
THE INTRODUCTION TO THIS
CONVERSATION HERE,
AND THAT IS THE FACT THAT A
CERTAIN AMOUNT OF MONEY WAS
PUT ASIDE AND EARMARKED TO BE
ACTUALLY UTILIZED FOR SUICIDE
PREVENTION AND BARELY ANY OF
IT WAS.
EXPLAIN FIRST OF ALL WHAT THAT
PROCESS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE,
AND HOW COULD IT POSSIBLY BE,
GIVEN THE SCENARIOS WE ARE
FACED WITH HERE THAT IT WAS
NOT UTILIZED.
>> DURING THE OBAMA
ADMINISTRATION THERE WAS A
RECOGNITION THAT PEOPLE COMING
BACK FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
HAD A GROWING PROBLEM AND THE
VA REALLY STEPPED UP AND TRIED
TO DO NEW THINGS TO REACH OUT
AND GET THOSE PEOPLE HELP.
AND SO THEY MADE SUICIDE
PREVENTION THEIR NUMBER ONE
CLINICAL PRIORITY.
AND WHAT THAT MEANT WAS
POURING LOTS OF MONEY INTO
DIFFERENT PROGRAMS,
NOT ONLY FOR TREATMENT,
BUT TO LET PEOPLE OUT IN THE
PUBLIC,
VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
AND FRIENDS KNOW THAT
TREATMENT WAS AVAILABLE AND
THERE WAS NO STIGMA TO GETTING
HELP AND HERE ARE THE
RESOURCES YOU HAVE.
AND SO THEY CREATED THIS
OUTREACH PROGRAM THAT SINCE
2011, YOU KNOW,
WAS GIVEN MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
FOR EVERYTHING FROM FACEBOOK
ADS TO BILLBOARDS THAT TOLD
PEOPLE ABOUT SUICIDE AAIRNESS
AND GUN SAFETY AND THAT.
AND AROUND WHEN THE TRUMP
ADMINISTRATION CAME IN THERE
WAS A GREAT TURNOVER IN PEOPLE
IN THE VA CENTRAL OFFICE AND
ONE PERSON WHO LEFT WAS IN
FRUSTRATION WAS THE SUICIDE
PREVENTION COORDINATOR AND
WHEN SHE LEFT IN 2017,
WHEN THAT HAPPENED THERE WAS
NO ONE IN CHARGE.
MEETINGS WERE CANCELLED AND
PLANS WERE NOT APPROVED AND
MONEY WENT UNSPENT.
NOW,
IT IS OFTEN THE CASE THAT THE
ORGANIZATIONS THAT WE CREATE
ARE -- DON'T DO AS WELL AS WE
HOPED AND BUREAUCRACIES TEND
TO DISAPPOINT,
BUT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT YOU
CAN USUALLY COUNT ON THEM TO
DO IS TO SPEND THE MONEY THAT
WE GIVE THEM.
AND SO THE FACT THAT THEY WERE
NOT EVEN DOING THAT,
SIMPLY BUYING ADS AND GETTING
THE WORD OUT THERE IS PRETTY
STRIKING OF SOME OF THE
BREAKDOWN AND CONFUSION
HAPPENING IN THE VA.
>> DOES IT SEEM TO YOU THROUGH
YOUR REPORTING THAT SOME OF
THOSE PROBLEMS ARE STARTING TO
BE ALLEVIATED?
THAT WE'RE GETTING PEOPLE IN
THE POSITIONS SO THAT THESE
PROGRAMS,
ESPECIALLY THE ONE WE'RE
TALKING ABOUT NOW WILL HAVE
SOMEBODY AT THE HELM SO THEY
CAN START TO FUNCTION THE WAY
THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO?
>> STARTING IN THE VERY END OF
THIS SUMMER THEY PLACED A NEW
HEAD OF SUICIDE PREVENTION AND
IT WAS THE SAME PERSON WHO HAD
BEEN THE # ACTING HEAD DURING
THE WHOLE TIME WHEN NOTHING
WAS HAPPENING.
SO I THINK IT'S AN OPEN
QUESTION WHETHER SOMETHING IS
GOING TO HAPPEN.
ANOTHER RED FLAG FOR US IN THE
MEDIA IS THAT WE CAN'T ANSWER
THE QUESTION YOU'RE ASKING
VERY WELL RIGHT NOW BECAUSE
THERE'S AN EXTREMELY TENSE
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE
NATIONAL MEDIA AND THE VA
CENTRAL OFFICE.
THEY WON'T GIVE US ANY ACCESS
TO THE # MID-LEVEL
FUNCTIONARIES THAT CARRY OUT A
LOT OF THIS STUFF.
>> THERE HAVE BEEN QUESTIONS
DURING THE COURSE OF THIS MOST
RECENT ADMINISTRATION ABOUT
LEADERSHIP AT THE VERY TOP OF
THE VA.
WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH THAT
RIGHT NOW?
>> TURNOVER, TURNOVER,
TURNOVER.
SO THE VA,
PRESIDENT TRUMP KEPT IN PLACE
ONE OF OBAMA'S TOP PEOPLE,
A MAN NAMED DAVID SHILLKIN,
AS THE HEAD OF VA.
WHEN HE CAME IN.
MR. SHULLKIN LASTED ABOUT A
YEAR WHEN HE WAS FIRED VIA
TWEET BY THE SECRETARY.
THERE WERE A NUMBER OF REASONS
HE HAD MISSPENT SOME TRAVEL
MONEY AND HE WAS NOT ALWAYS
ONBOARD WITH SOME OF PRESIDENT
TRUMP'S PRIORITIES AND HAD
CLASHED WITH SOME OF HIS MORE
CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL
APPOINTEES.
AND THE PRESIDENT THEN TRIED
TO APPOINT HIS PERSONAL WHITE
HOUSE PHYSICIAN, AND THAT MAN,
RONNIE JACKSON QUICKLY HAD TO
WITHDRAW AMID ACCUSATIONS THAT
HE WAS DRUNK ON DUTY AND
MISUSING PRESCRIPTION
MEDICATIONS WHILE A PHYSICIAN.
SEVERAL MONTHS PASSD BEFORE
THE NOW IN-PLACE SECRETARY
CAME IN AND HIS NAME IS ROBERT
WILKE,
A MAN WHO SPENT HIS LIFE IN
WASHINGTON,
WORKING AS A HILL STAFFER AND
AS A -- SORT OF A HIGH-LEVEL
BUREAUCRAT IN THE DEPARTMENT
OF DEFENSE.
HE'S KIND OF AN UNKNOWN.
CAN HE BRING ORDER?
CAN HE GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN
AND CAN THEY DO THE JOB?
WE ARE WAITING TO SEE.
>> WELL, DAVID,
AS WE SAID FROM THE VERY
BEGINNING,
THE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING.
THEY'RE TERRIBLY TROUBLING.
WE APPRECIATE YOUR TIME AND
EFFORT AND THE REPORTING
YOU'VE BEEN DOING ON THIS AND
WE LOOK FORWARD TO TALK TO YOU
IN THE FUTURE TO GET A SENSE
OF WHAT SORT OF PROGRESS,
HOPEFULLY,
WE'RE MAKING ON THESE ISSUES.
DAVID,
THANKS AGAIN FOR JOINING US.
>> THANKS.
ONE MORE THING.
THE VA IS STILL FUNCTIONAL IN
THE HEALTH CARE IT PROVIDES
AND IF ANYONE OUT THERE DOES
WANT TO SEEK HELP,
THERE ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE
THERE THAT ARE WAITING.
>> THAT'S A GREAT POINT TO
MAKE TO WRAP THIS UP.
DAVID THANK YOU AGAIN.
WE'LL TALK SOON.
>> THANK YOU.
>> AGAIN,
TO READ THE FULL REPORT ON
THIS STORY MAKE SURE YOU GO TO
METROFOCUS.ORG.

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Funders

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