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The American Legion Can Play Key Role in Vets' Suicide Prevention, Says VA

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Aug. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A top medical officer in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says The American Legion and colleague veterans service organizations can play a key role in suicide prevention among military veterans. Dr. Jan Kemp, the VA's national suicide prevention coordinator, in pointing to the 5,000 self-inflicted deaths among veterans a year, said, "We're failing them. It's all of our responsibility to own up to that. There's no reason any veteran in the United States of America should die of his own hand because they think people don't care, and that there's no way for them to make that situation better."

VA is addressing the critical problem by placing suicide prevention coordinators at every VA facility and opening a 24/7 suicide prevention telephone hotline. Since the hotline was established two years ago, says VA, nearly 84,000 calls have been received by veterans considering taking their own lives and nearly another 11,000 from concerned family members or friends of veterans at risk.

VA has also created a pocket-sized suicide risk assessment card and a training program to help friends, colleagues and loved ones spot suicide warning signs and taking immediate and effective steps to prevent tragedy.

Dr. Kemp said that members of The American Legion can fill key roles in the VA's suicide prevention initiatives by engaging their fellow vets, looking for signs of emotional distress and intervening correctly and quickly when potential trouble is spotted. She noted that the concern surrounding suicide is not just for warriors recently returned from the rigors of battle and perhaps suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but among older veterans, too. Referring to them, she said, "We're thinking about those transitions from working to retirement. There have been some economic changes. Retirement isn't what it used to be for some of us. Those are really critical times in people's lives."

Dr. Kemp made her remarks during The American Legion's 91st National Convention, now convened in Louisville, Ky.

With a current membership of 2.5-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

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SOURCE The American Legion
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