As the United States recognizes National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, veteran suicide remains a major problem both in Michigan and nationwide. The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA), the state coordinating agency for Michigan’s 550,000 veterans and their families, is working with other agencies and organizations to address the factors fueling veteran suicide.
There were 170 veteran suicides in Michigan in 2017 – up from 159 in 2016, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And while Michigan’s veteran suicide rate of 29 per 100,000 population was slightly lower than the national veteran suicide rate of 31 per 100,000, it was much higher than Michigan’s overall suicide rate of 18 per 100,000. Among age groups, the suicide rate for Michigan veterans ages 18-34 is far and away the highest, at a sobering 64 per 100,000.
Over the past year, the MVAA has taken numerous steps toward addressing veteran suicide in Michigan, including:
In an effort to engage more veterans throughout Michigan, MVAA started Check on MIVet. Through the program, the MVAA lines up a free benefits consult with a veteran, who may be struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, lack of quality health care, unemployment or other challenges.
MVAA and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Administration redirected County Veteran Service Fund grants to be used for emergency assistance for veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and Midland flooding. This allowed eligible veterans and their families in participating counties to buy groceries, pay medical expenses and make home and vehicle repairs.
MVAA, working with Veteran Service Organizations throughout the state, launched the CORE Outreach and Engagement Initiative, which is aimed at more quickly and efficiently connecting veterans and their families to the benefits and services they need.
MVAA, the Walking with Warriors Veteran Navigator program and other partners hosted two Operation Veteran Care Package events to thank veterans for their service and give them an opportunity to see a friendly face during the COVID-19 pandemic. The events, in Lansing and Detroit, drew over 160 veterans who received care packages valued at up to $30 and included letters of thanks, gift cards, handmade masks and information on a variety of services available to veterans. More events are being planned.
“Suicide is a complex issue with many contributing factors,” Director Adams said. “There is no easy answer. But we will continue to collaborate with other veteran-friendly groups and organizations to serve and support our veterans and connect them with the often-critical benefits and resources they earned for their service to our nation.”
Veterans who want more information on getting connected to the benefits they may have earned for their service can call the MVAA’s Veteran Resource Service Center at 1-800-MICH-VET.
If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, call the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.