Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ COL (Ret) George Patrin, M.D., CMHNetwork Advisory Council Member
The VA just released a report stating that suicides are down among Vets who are accessing their care vs. Vets who aren't. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
- In the past eight years, VHA has enhanced mental health services across its system and supplemented it with specific programs for suicide prevention – like the Veterans Crisis Line. However, until recently information on suicide among all Veterans was not available. Earlier this month, a study on the changes in suicide rates for Veterans and non-Veterans was published that included indications that VHA patients were experiencing positive outcomes from care.
“Going into this study, we thought we would see a higher rate of suicide among VHA users,” Dr. Robert M. Bossarte said. “This is because sickness is a risk factor for suicide, and the basic assumption was that those seeking care would be at a higher risk than those who weren’t. The data showed the opposite was true: VHA users had a lower suicide rate than non-VHA users.”
Sounds great, right? Before you celebrate this finding, let's look a little bit closer and talk about what this really means.
Is it a surprise to anyone that “VHA users had a lower suicide rate than non-VHA users?” The VA starts up a program(s) or service not offered before this (and why not?), and some Vets who had no options before go to the VA. Great. Those who still don’t trust the VA stay with what they had…and the suicide rate is higher without care than those getting any level of care at the VA.
This is nothing to boast about. The comparison needs to be VA care vs. other quality network care, whether DoD or civilian.
This report is distracting us from the reality of the lack of quality programs and processes, beginning with access to care problems in the National News, but more importantly the lack of true preventive services and poor continuity and integration of behavioral health, emergency care, and the primary care provider.To give the VA credit, our entire nation is stuck with a crisis-oriented sick-care system, especially for mental health issues. The whole system needs to be turned on its ear. The VA started this brand of holistic healthcare delivery years ago with the invention of Primary Care Teamlets, but seems to have lost that direction. (I know this because I’m enrolled to one, and it’s not what it’s advertised to be.)
What is more maddening is why the VA and entire DoD aren’t looking to repeat successes of other organizations, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, who have figured out how to achieve zero suicides among those they are responsible for serving. While “one size doesn’t fit all,” the model works. To be sure, the VA does provide wonderful care in places, not due to their regulations, but due to exceptional employees who go the extra mile day in and day out. Thanks to those people for what they do.
But let’s not throw up smoke screens with reports like this to make ourselves feel better, deflecting us from the real truth. We are better than this…and our Vets and their Families deserve a better level of care!"
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COL (Ret) George Patrin, M.D., spent over 23 years as an Army Pediatrician and Healthcare Administrator concentrating on Family Advocacy and Healthcare Process Improvement. His final assignment was as Northern Regional Command Special Projects Officer for Patient-Family Centered Healthcare assisting in writing DoD Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Guidelines and Training. He has been a staunch advocate for both soldier and family member readiness throughout is military career. He is a sought after speaker on parenting education, child abuse prevention, school learning and behavior problems, and healthcare administration optimization. Dr. Patrin is a member of the Children's Mental Health Network Advisory Council. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.