The VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System, in concert with VA medical centers across the country, is continuing its focus on suicide by military veterans.
VA Eastern Kansas Suicide Prevention team members were in the community this week placing Veterans Crisis Line wallet cards in Casey’s General Stores in Leavenworth for customers to notice and pick up as needed as part of an effort launched several weeks ago following a Board of Directors meeting at the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We at VA Eastern Kansas are prioritizing messaging and actions concerning the fight to end veteran suicide. Beyond this national campaign, we at VA Eastern Kansas will not rest while working with our elected officials, our stakeholders and our community in a shared partnership,” said Rudy Klopfer, director of the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System. “When it comes to veteran suicide, it is our mission to reach every veteran, every time, until a difference is made for our most precious commodity – our nation’s heroes.”
VA Eastern Kansas spokesman Joseph Burks recently asked Brandon Johannes, president of the chamber, and members of the Board of Directors for permission to allow VA Eastern Kansas to work with business members associated with the chamber in supporting the cause.
“The relationship the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce shares with the VA Eastern Health Care System and Eisenhower VA Medical Center is a treasured one,” Johannes said in an email. “Our organizations have been working together in support of the community, whether through our local businesses or supporting our veterans, for decades. The chamber is proud to be a partner in the fight against veteran suicides and offers its unwavering support and gratitude to all who would help our noble veterans in their times of need, whether VA staff, family, friends or volunteers. Our veterans will always have the support of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.”
VA suicide prevention materials have been and will continue to be dispersed in the city and throughout the area.
“This is a great way to get this message out to everyone and demonstrates a strong partnership between the chamber, the Leavenworth VA and the community,” Burks said.
“The purpose of this initiative is to put the Veterans Crisis Line number and information about when to use it in the hands of community veterans and their family members who may not know how to get help when needed,” said Meghan Voorhees, social worker at the Eisenhower VA Medical Center and a member of the Suicide Prevention Team.
Burks said the outreach includes several different kinds of materials.
“Sometimes a stack of brochures with information about warning signs makes the most sense,” he said. “Other times, it’s smaller items like keychains or wallet cards. What they all have in common is the quickest, most direct way to reach help – the Veterans Crisis Line.”
Burks said more than 20 local and area businesses are participating in the initiative.
“The Eastern Kansas VA Suicide Prevention team has been warmly welcomed again and again by businesses in Leavenworth and Topeka and as far north as St. Joseph, Missouri, and south into Wyandotte and Shawnee counties,” he said. “Veterans and their supporters can find suicide prevention resources in bowling alleys, sporting goods stores, Casey’s General Stores and area resale shops. We’ve reached out to more than 25 locations already and the list is growing. As part of a plan made with the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce, management of Casey’s General Stores was asked to partner with VA suicide prevention efforts by having crisis resources available for customers to pick up as needed. They were very receptive and quickly planned with our staff for the best way to do this. This will reach a lot of people and we are grateful to Casey’s for joining us in the fight against suicide.”
He said the business community has responded positively.
“Every business visited has responded positively,” Burks said. “Our community strongly values current and prior service members. Business owners have all welcomed the opportunity to join the fight against suicide. Rarely have we walked into a shop or office where we did not hear ‘I’m a veteran myself’ or ‘My family member is a veteran.’”
Burks said suicide is a public health issue because thoughts of suicide are more common than people realize. When someone is in crisis, he said, having a caring individual to reach out to can save their life.
“Widespread education about other public health issues like seat belt use and early cancer screening has reduced deaths from car accidents and disease,” he said. “VA’s goal is to reduce deaths from suicide by getting education about crisis resources into the hands of as many people as possible.Many people have heard that on average, 20 veterans a day die as a result of suicide. What people may not have heard is that most of those veterans are not connected with VA services and might not know that help is available at any time, day or night. VA’s goal is not to bring all veterans into our facilities for care but to make sure that all veterans know how to get help when and where they need it.”
Burks said there are numerous programs and resources available to veterans.
“The Whole Health Program is an overreaching initiative working to help vets look at all aspects of their health,” he said. “Transition Care Management staff come alongside newly discharged veterans to help them navigate changes. Veterans with substance use problems find care in our Outpatient and Residential Recovery treatment programs. Veterans without homes find temporary and permanent residences with help from VA’s housing programs. This list is the tip of the iceberg. All veterans are encouraged to enroll with the VA to find out what might be available for them. We encourage all veterans to reach out to our eligibility department at 785-350-4511 or click the Become a Patient link on our medical center website to begin the process of enrolling in VA health care.”
For more information on veteran suicide rates, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/data.asp
For information on resources available for veterans, families, friends and communities, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/resources.asp