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Study: Care for veterans at risk of suicide inadequate

Soldiers from the Farmingdale-based 333rd Military Police Brigade

Soldiers from the Farmingdale-based 333rd Military Police Brigade take part in a deployment ceremony at Hofstra University, after which they will head to Fort Bliss, Texas, for mobilization training prior to their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. (Aug. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Large numbers of veterans considered at risk of suicide are not getting adequate follow-up care from mental health clinicians at the nation's Veterans Affairs medical centers, according to a report by the VA inspector general.

The study said that, although the VA requires clinicians who discharge at-risk veterans from inpatient mental health facilities to schedule follow-up evaluations, almost one in three such patients nationwide do not receive adequate monitoring.

Nancy Olsen, the Northport VA Medical Center's suicide prevention coordinator, said her facility offered follow-up care to all 69 of its patients who were identified as high risk of suicide during the yearlong reporting period that ended last Sept. 30.

The inspector general's report said the risk of self-destructive behaviors are especially high for acute psychiatric patients in the first days after their discharge from mental health facilities.

In the last three months of 2012, nine Long Island veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan died from suicide or drug overdose, said Nassau Executive Edward Mangano's office. Nationwide, about 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to a VA report released in February.

The VA requires its mental health clinicians to evaluate patients considered at high risk of suicide once a week for 30 days after their discharge from VA mental health facilities. But of 215 patients whose medical records were examined during the inspector general's audit, 65 did not receive all of their follow-up evaluations.

The report said the IG's office had warned VA health officials nationwide about the lack of follow-up in 2010, but no progress was made despite promises to improve.

Olsen described high-risk patients as those who had previously attempted suicide, or who had exhibited other significant risk factors, such as repeatedly imagining suicide scenarios or developing a plan.

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