Former VA Secretaries Push for National Day of Recognition to Prevent Veteran Suicides

Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Alexis Vazquez places her handprint on the bulkhead of the vehicle stowage ramp aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month.
Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Alexis Vazquez places her handprint on the bulkhead of the vehicle stowage ramp aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month, Sept. 29, 2021. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Darcy McAtee/U.S. Navy photo)

Editor's Note: This story was corrected Aug. 9 to accurately reflect the number of suicides by members of the U.S. military. A previous version contained a higher number, the result of a mathematical error.

For the second straight year, all seven former Department of Veterans Affairs secretaries are calling on Congress to designate a Sunday in November as a national day to raise awareness about suicides among the veteran population.

The secretaries sent letters last week to lawmakers urging them to approve a resolution officially naming the Sunday after Veterans Day as "National Warrior Call Day" to encourage all veterans and the general public to reach out to a veteran, either by phone or a meetup.

This year, the date would be Nov. 13.

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"With its simple mission imploring Americans -- but especially active-duty service members and veterans -- to connect with someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and let them know they care -- Warrior Call can foster greater connectivity, compassion and better outcomes," the secretaries wrote.

At the urging of the former secretaries last year, Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Elaine Luria, D-Va., proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to recognize "Warrior Call Day."

It was approved by the House of Representatives but removed during final negotiations over the bill. This year, the group is hoping to get a resolution through the Senate, where it is being shepherded by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., with support from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

"Support for our troops shouldn't end when they return home -- but it doesn't always take a new federal program. Sometimes all you need is a call from a friend, family member, or battle buddy," Cotton said in a press release.

The idea behind a Warrior Call is to reduce isolation, which is associated with suicide. According to the VA, 6,261 veterans took their own lives in 2019, nearly 400 fewer deaths by suicide than the year before after nearly a decade of steady increases.

The veteran suicide rate, when adjusted for age and gender, was 26.9 per 100,000 persons in 2019, nearly 50% higher than the rate for all adults in the U.S.

In 2021, 522 service members, including active-duty, Reserve and National Guard members, died by suicide.

"[Warrior Call] can help arrest the tragic suicide trends that are befalling veterans and active-duty personnel at a rate far more deadly than among civilians," the secretaries wrote. "The goal is to have individuals 'make a call, take a call and be honest.'"

Those signing the letter were Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James Peake, Eric Shinseki, Robert McDonald, David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie.

Frank Larkin, chairman of Warrior Call whose son Ryan was a Navy SEAL who died by suicide, said there are no single solutions to reducing suicide, but addressing isolation is important.

"Greater connectivity will serve as a starting point for reaching veterans and service members who don't raise their hands, who are suffering in silence and might be spiraling into an abyss," Larkin said in a statement released by the Troops First Foundation, a group that provides programs for post-9/11 combat-injured veterans and sponsors the Warrior Call initiative.

Veterans and military personnel experiencing a mental health emergency can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 988, and press 1. They can also text 838255 or reach someone via chat through the VA's crisis line website.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: National 988 Suicide Hotline to Debut July 16; Veterans and Military, Press 1

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