Walz puts spotlight on military issues, veteran suicide

Updated: September 18, 2019 06:39 PM

Governor Tim Walz is putting a spotlight on military and veterans issues ahead of the deployment of 700 Minnesota National Guard troops later this week.

On Wednesday, Walz toured mental health and suicide prevention programs offered by Veterans Affairs (VA) in Minneapolis.

"There's numerous things that can put people into crisis," Walz said at a news conference at the VA. "It can be because they're not receiving a check they've been promised on time and it's putting them in a situation where they might lose their home. That's a crisis situation. It could be access to medication. It could be a pain situation."

Veterans Crisis Line

Across the country, the statistics are grim: Up to 20 military veterans die by suicide every day. Walz wants to expand efforts to coordinate state and federal VA mental health resources, exemplified by the state having an office inside the VA building.

"Having the State of Minnesota's office inside this facility to make sure that we are not missing anyone is something we're going to build on," he said.

Suicide prevention programs are important for veterans and active duty military members. According to the Department of Defense, there were 266 deaths by suicide involving active duty members of the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps in 2015. Sadly, those totals have gone up every year since. In 2018, 325 active duty deaths by suicide were reported, an increase of 22%.

The VA has 400 mental health counselors across the state, including at the VA in Minneapolis and 13 clinics.

"This effort to expand beyond our medical center and 13 clinics is really gonna be jettisoned forward by this relationship with the state of Minnesota," said Pat Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA Heath Care System.

According to the most recent year figures are available, 95 military veterans committed suicide in 2016.

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Tom Hauser

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