VA Hires Outreach Specialists to Counter High Suicide Rate

By Lura Jackson

 

As a rural state, Maine has among the highest rates of veteran suicide in the nation, according to a study conducted by the Veteran’s Administration [VA] last year. According to the study, there are many factors involved in what accounts for the higher suicide rate, including opiate use. To attempt to counter the state’s struggle with veteran suicides, the VA announced on December 12th that it will be hiring three new staff members that will operate from the Togus clinic. 

Each of the staff members will have a different specialty focused on reducing the suicide rate and increasing support for veterans. The first staff member will be a Veteran Justice Outreach specialist that will work to ensure veterans suffering from mental illness and homelessness do not wind up in jail. The second will be a re-entry specialist that assists veterans who have been incarcerated with finding adequate health care and community support. The third will directly work as a suicide prevention specialist.

Maine’s struggle with opiate addiction goes hand in hand with the struggle of veterans, some of whom are contending with physical injuries while others lack psychological support. Per the VA study, veterans who received the highest doses of opioid painkillers were more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared with those receiving the lowest doses.

Another factor in the suicide rate relates to the gender of veterans. Women veterans are much more likely to succumb to suicide, based on the VA data. Women who are veterans have a suicide rate 2.5 times higher than their civilian counterparts. For men, the risk is also increased, though by a lesser amount – veteran men were 19 percent more likely to commit suicide. 

Age is a third factor involved in the suicide rate of veterans is age. The majority of veterans that commit suicide – 65 percent – are 50 years old or more. 

Maine’s veteran suicide rate is higher than the nation and the rest of the Northeast states. According to the VA data, the Maine veteran suicide rate is 48.3 per 100,000 people, compared to 38.4 nationally and 31.5 in the Northeast. For non-veterans, the suicide rate in Maine in 19.8, compared to 17.0 nationally and 13.2 for the Northeast.

The news of the additional specialists that will begin working for the VA was met with enthusiasm from legislators. “Maine veterans answered the call to uphold our freedoms, and those struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse, or homelessness deserve our comprehensive support,” Senator Angus King said. “These new positions in Maine provide veterans with expanded access to specialists so they can get the treatments and services they need.”

“Tragically, too many of our Veterans face extraordinary mental and health challenges when they return from service,” said Congressman Bruce Poliquin. “We must make sure our Veterans have the help and support they need.”

Veterans seeking assistance in the Calais area may contact the VA Clinic at 454-1600.