A suicide prevention bill for veterans is expected to be signed into law by the president. It has highlighted the need for additional mental health support for current and former service members. MPB’s Evelina Burnett visited a program in Gulfport that aims to do just that.
“So we have nine beds. They’re all private rooms," Chonne Tyndall says as she gives a tour of one of the patient rooms in Garden Park Medical Center’s post-traumatic stress and substance abuse program for active military, veterans and their dependents. It's called STAR for Stress, Trauma, addiction and Recovery, and it opened last year.
"We saw a need down here to help our active military and veterans and we started looking into the program to see what we could do," Tyndall says. "Mississippi is a certificate of need state so we had to propose it to the state and get approval. That actually took about 3 years to do."
Tyndall, director of behavioral health at Garden Park, says the rooms are all “suicide-safe,” with precautions such as shatterproof light covers. Studies have found a link between post-traumatic stress and suicide.
The Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System also offers suicide prevention services. Linda Cox, transitional care program manager for behavioral health at the Gulf Coast VA, says there are three full-time suicide prevention clinicians. She hopes the new legislation will bring more widespread awareness of suicide prevention, including early signs and referral steps.
"It takes an entire community to try to reach out to people who are struggling, because sometimes the people who are struggling are not as open about it,” she says.
The bill, which has passed both houses of Congress, will also help with recruitment of psychiatrists, another change, Cox says, that could make a big difference.
"I believe the legislation talks about resources to help us recruit and retain psychiatrists, which would be wonderful because that's a challenge for us at the VA. So that's a part of the bill I'm very excited about," she says.
The bill also requires annual reviews of the suicide prevention services. VA statistics show that every day in America, 22 veterans commit suicide.