The following editorial originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va.:
The White House’s latest effort to tackle the difficult problem of suicide among the military and veterans may be the comprehensive approach that’s sorely needed.
The new strategy, announced the week before Veterans Day, is promising and deserves support.
Skeptics will be forgiven, since we’ve heard a lot of this before. The rate of suicides among the military and veterans has remained alarmingly high for a decade or more, despite the well-publicized vows of the last three presidential administrations to make this crisis a priority.
The statistics are grim. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, about four times more military members and veterans have died of suicide than have been killed fighting. The rate of suicide among military members and veterans is 1.5 times that of American civilians.
These unacceptable numbers continue despite increased attention and recent federal initiatives.
The Biden administration’s strategy calls for building on existing programs and adding more in a drive toward real progress.
One emphasis is on making it less likely that a person in crisis will have easy access to “lethal means.” Often, the time when a person sinks to that level of desperation is relatively brief. If the means of suicide isn’t readily available, the crisis may pass.
As part of the comprehensive approach, the Department of Justice is working on a proposal from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to require gun dealers to offer compatible, secure gun storage and safety devices for sale.
Other plans include expanding existing efforts to identify military members and veterans struggling with mental health problems, doing more to intervene before a crisis, and making it easier for those in crisis to get emergency help.
One of the most important aspects of the comprehensive strategy involves correcting the problems that lead service members and veterans to the brink of suicide. That’s a challenge, because there are many reasons and many service members and veterans are reluctant to ask for help when they need it.
This effort will address basic things such as pay, benefits, family stresses and the difficulty of making the transition from military to civilian life. Too many veterans struggle with homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and other problems that contribute to hopelessness.
The 20 years of war since Sept. 11 have put great stresses on the men and women who volunteer to serve in our military and protect our nation. The government and society as a whole have done a poor job of helping them deal with their emotional and mental-health problems.
The new, expanded emphasis has the potential to make a difference. Let’s do what we can to make it work.