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‘It is OK not to be OK’: VA Sec., senators visit Wilmington VA to raise awareness about veteran suicide

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Sophia Schmidt
/
Delaware Public Media
Sen. Tom Carper, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, Sec. Denis McDonough, Sen. Chris Coons and VA Wilmington Health Care System Director Vince Kane (left to right) talk with John De Marco of the Knights of Columbus (far right) about the mental health challenges veterans face.

The Veterans Affairs Secretary joined Delaware’s two senators Monday to hear what the VA could be doing better - and promote suicide prevention.

Senators Tom Carper(D-Delaware) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), along with VA Secretary Denis McDonough, visited a flag memorial at the Wilmington VA hospital in Elsmere Monday for veterans who have died by suicide.

They also met with veterans service organizations to hear what the VA needs to do better.

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Sophia Schmidt
/
Delaware Public Media
A flag memorial for veterans who have died by suicide at the Wilmington VA hospital in Elsmere

“It is OK not to be OK,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who attended Monday's event and is the wife and daughter of two veterans. “We look forward to Delaware being one of the first states to hopefully lower if not eliminate veteran suicide.”

The suicide rate for veterans in the US is significantly higher than for the general population. And NPR recently reported long wait times for some veterans seeking mental healthcare.

But VA Wilmington Health Care System Director Vince Kane says Delaware veterans are able to get mental healthcare in a timely manner.

“If somebody called today saying they needed to be seen or they were in crisis, we would find a way to see them, whether that be here at the main campus or one in our community-based outpatient clinics,” Kane said. “If it was an off-hours emergency, they could present to our emergency room.”

Flags_forgotten_soldiers_veteran_suicide_wilmington_VA_2.jpg
Sophia Schmidt
/
Delaware Public Media

Kane says his facilities have seen an increase in depression, PTSD and substance use during the pandemic and are hiring more mental health professionals.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough says timely mental healthcare — by telehealth or in-person—is a priority.

“This is why the President has demanded, Congress has funded, an aggressive effort to make sure that we’re looking to use all the available tools for us to provide mental healthcare,” he said. “That includes assurance that if you’re in an emergency situation and you present today, we will get you in to see a professional today.”

Veterans in crisis can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

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