Recently, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that in conjunction with the start of National Suicide Prevention Month, the City of Houston and local agencies would be working closer together to increase suicide awareness and prevention support for those who have bravely served our country.
The effort is part of the Mayor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families. Houston is one of the initial seven U.S. cities to participate in the challenge, founded last year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“An estimated 300,000 veterans live in the Houston-area. We all have a role to play in preventing suicide, especially when it comes to those who have served our country with duty, honor and courage,” said Mayor Turner. “I’m proud of my Veterans Affairs Office for accepting the Mayor’s Challenge and joining with vital on-the-ground local agencies to address the epidemic of veteran suicide.”
National statistics show 20 veterans die by suicide every day; a rate much higher than in the civilian population. Rates for Houston are not available but obtaining better local data is one of the goals of the Houston Mayor’s Challenge.
“Preventing veteran suicide is the highest clinical priority at the VA and we are committed to bringing as many resources as possible to bear to solve this issue here in Houston,” said Frank Vazquez, Houston VA Medical Center Director. “There really is no single cause of suicide and we know that no single organization can end Veteran suicide alone. Houston VA is proud to be a part of the Houston Mayor’s Challenge and work with our community partners to put an end to Veteran suicide.”
The Houston Mayor’s Challenge has already implemented several measures to eliminate gaps in the roles of local agencies that serve veterans. Among the accomplishment in the first year:
- The Harris Center and the Houston VA now have a hand-off system between the two agencies to assist with the care of veterans.
- A network of communication between local hospitals and the VA to assist with veteran care is being built.
- The Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department are better able to identify suicidal behavior and will begin referring people to ensure follow up care is offered.
- The Houston Health Department is working with hospitals and the Houston VA to enhance care coordination for veterans who are discharged after suicide attempts.
“The Harris Center is proud to be the first Local Mental Health Authority in the State of Texas to have a memorandum of understanding directly with the VA that allows us to coordinate care for veterans,” said Wayne Young, Chief Executive Officer of The Harris Center. “This has already led to over 60 veterans in our community getting immediate access to intensive behavioral health care management through our mobile crisis outreach team with the goal of linking veterans to long term mental health services. The mission of The Harris Center to transform the lives of people in our community living with behavioral health and intellectual and development disabilities is strengthened by the work we are doing on this project with all these outstanding organizations.”
Agencies participating in the Houston Mayor’s Challenge include:
- City of Houston Veterans Affairs Office
- Houston VA Medical Center
- Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Veteran Services
- The Harris Center
- Houston Police Department
- Houston Fire Department
- Houston Health Department
- Mental Health America of Greater Houston, Veterans Behavioral Health
- Combined Arms
- UTHealth Trauma and Resilience Center
“Combined Arms is proud to play a role in the prevention of suicides in our community,” said Monique Rodriguez, Combined Arms social services manager. “Through the Houston Mayor’s Challenge, we are able to enhance our coordination of care for veterans who need mental health services, distribute VA gun locks and connect veterans to quality community resources.”
Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide – and those who know a veteran in crisis – can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press one, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255.