On 27 August the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it had formalized a partnership with the Department of Defense formalized a partnership on 28 June between VA’s Vet Centers and the National Guard Bureau, to provide Vet Center counseling, outreach staff and other services to members during training or drill weekends to decrease their suicide rate — a reputed problem in the Pennsylvania National Guard.
The VA will use its 300 Vet Centers, 80 Mobile Vet Centers and a 24/7 call center to provide community-based counseling for a wide range of social and psychological services, including confidential readjustment counseling and outreach and referral. Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma. Suicide prevention is a top priority for the National Guard, which experienced the highest rate of suicide among military components in 2017. Since then, VA has seen a 38% increase in National Guard service members seeking Vet Center services. The fit seems perfect.
Almost paradoxically, the same announcement stated suicides have dropped to the lowest point than they have been in the past five years when comparing annual data from January to August. The Guard is carefully examining the information to determine whether a direct correlation exists between the reduction of suicides so far in 2019, and this type of effort. It would seem logical.
So … where is our Lehigh Valley Vet Center? LVMAC advocated for one in 2008; and had gotten Congressman Dent involved. We believed veterans sometimes need a more accessible and less clinical approach to problem-solving — which these Vet Centers provide as readjustment centers, a concept sparked by the issues of returning Vietnam era veterans. It’s a superfine program staffed with dedicated people, because the VA has emphasized the hiring of trained veterans for them. However, the powers that be in the Readjustment Counseling Service, which operates them, after establishing one of the last of these Lancaster area, informed us that the VA would establish no more in Pennsylvania. Therefore, despite the hype, the Lehigh Valley is unlikely to be a major beneficiary of this new agreement unless the VA becomes especially proactive (we fall under the Scranton Vet Center’s area of operations) if there is indeed a major need here. To find out more about VA Vet Centers, visit www.vetcenter.va.gov.
2 September 2019