September is Suicide Prevention Month. As this month comes to a close, it is important to remember that it is always the time to be there for the Veterans and Servicemembers who may need your help. Learn more about how you can #BeThere.

Many people believe two myths about suicide:

  1. People who die by suicide have planned for a while and know how they want to do it.
  2. If the method that the person wants to use is unavailable, they’ll just find another method.

I call these statements myths because research shows the contrary. A nice overview of the evidence in this area can be found on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Means Matter project website.  One of the articles included in the review, from 2009, showed that for almost half of the study’s participants, the time between one’s first thought of suicide and making an actual attempt was 10 minutes or less.

Recent VA research indicates that 66 percent of Veterans who die by suicide are dying from firearm injuries. Given that the majority of deaths result from using a firearm, and people who are having suicidal thoughts are often acting on those thoughts very quickly, the problem seems to be the combination of a fast progression of thought to action and the use of a  method that is highly lethal.

It is very scary to imagine someone in crisis who starts having suicidal thoughts and then makes a suicide attempt with a firearm within 10 minutes.

While this situation may seem hopeless and anxiety-provoking, it actually offers an opportunity for intervention. If enough distance could be built in between the person who is having suicidal thoughts and the action with a lethal method, there may be enough time for the crisis to pass without the person ever making a suicide attempt.

In 2014, VA released a video about gun safety to promote safe firearm practices that may increase exactly that distance between someone in crisis and his or her use of  a firearm, ultimately preventing tragic outcomes like suicide.

VA also provides free cable locks for safe firearm storage. I can attest that our Rocky Mountain MIRECC will provide as many locks as the Veteran or the Veteran’s loved ones desire.  In fact, we bring them by the boxful to community events, presentations, and any other place where they may be distributed to those who need them.

At nearly every event I attend in which we give out cable gun locks, I see people hesitant to grab any, ask if they are allowed to take one, and then look at me with surprise when I encourage them to take as many as they’d like.

In fact, just a few months ago we had a table at an event in the community where both Veterans and Servicemembers were present. I remember a young Servicemember who approached our table and started making small talk.  He respectfully expressed his gratitude for the event and then made his way to the end of the table where the gun locks were.  He picked one up and stated, “Oh these are cool.  People use these?”

As he went to put it back on the table I said, “Please take some. We hope that all of these are taken today.”  He still looked hesitant as he picked the lock back up.  He then smiled, and timidly said, “Thank you.”  As he started to walk away, I encouraged him to take more.  “Please, we really don’t want to take any of these back with us.  Take as many as you want.”  He laughed and ended up taking five or six with him.

They could have been for him, for the multiple firearms he may own. They could have been for friends.  They could have been just in case.  Who knows?  What’s important is that the Servicemember now has a resource, a tool, which creates distance.  It interrupts.  It may stop that quick progression of thought to action and introduce the chance to survive the crisis.

A cable lock is a tool. There are many tools that may be used to slow down the process and facilitate distance. Cable locks, trigger locks, and gun safes (just to name a few) are all tools that may interrupt the fast progression of thought to regrettable action.  But, if those who are in need of the tools do not know that they exist or how to get them, the tools are useless.  Further, unless these tools come with information about their importance and how to use them, they are relatively useless.

MIRECC stands for Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center. Education, which involves making knowledge and resources accessible and usable, is essential for us to realize our mission of preventing Veteran suicide.  This is why we are in the community, spreading the word about what is available and providing these resources for free.  We are making information more accessible with our website and podcast channel, where we have an episode specifically dedicated to firearm safety.

We are working to develop refined interventions and tools to be adopted by both providers and patients, such as cable locks that have the Veterans Crisis Line phone number on them, and information about suicide prevention in the packaging. And we hope that Veterans, their loved ones, and any stakeholders of Veterans’ health and suicide prevention realize how relatively simple, safe, firearm storage practices may keep those at risk safe.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, reach out and call 1-800-273-8255. Veterans and Servicemembers, press 1. You can also chat online at, or send a text message to 838255. Confidential support from caring VA responders is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

This blog is based on work supported, in part, by VA, but does not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.

Melodi BilleraMelodi Billera, LCSW, is a social worker at VA’s Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention. Billera joined the MIRECC in 2012 and currently serves as an investigator, member of the education core, and training committee faculty member. She is especially interested in translational research and the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practices, educational products, tools, and resources for at-risk Veterans and their loved ones.





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Published on Sep. 30, 2016

Estimated reading time is 5.3 min.

Views to date: 170


  1. Melissa McHarg October 4, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I am so sorry for your experience. There are several non-profits that provide mental health services for Veterans and their families free of charge. One is Give an Hour:

  2. Sherry Hight September 30, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    It is a testament to my resilience that I am still alive. My therapist of 13 years, outside of the VA through fee basis retired bacause she refused to take the pennies on the dollar throughout TriWest. I have not had a qualified therapist since last October. I is in the VA Mission Statement that it is against the new to not have me with a qualified therapist. HOPE is fading and the crisis line is a joke. I have called it and I get the bums rush every time. The individual has me of “his line” in less than 4 minutes because he has to take another call/I was #22.

  3. Robert G. Bauman September 30, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I entered the Navy in 1966 from St. Paul, MN. I served 15 months IN Viet Nam from 1967 through 1968 as a Navy Seabee working closely with the Marine Corps. I am a 100% Disabled, Service Connected Veteran with a 70% PTSD rating, 100% total and permanently disabled.
    In August 2008, my wife and I purchased our “Retirement Home” in Holcombe, WI. I requested eligibility for the Wisconsin Property Tax Credit, but because I enlisted in Minnesota, I was informed by the Wisconsin DVA, I had to pay Property Taxes for 5-years, before becoming eligible for the Property Tax Credit. I have permanently resided at my Wisconsin address since 2008. My wife was still working in Minnesota and remained there, coming up on weekends to be with me. Since we had no Wisconsin Income, we filled taxes in Minnesota until 2009, when she retired and joined me in Wisconsin.
    I submitted all required forms for the Credit with the assistance of my CVSO in Ladysmith, WI. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs denied my claim stating I had no proof I physically lived here until 2010. I was then given two (2) VA Affidavits to be signed and notarized, stating I had lived here since August 2008. The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs sent me “Approval” as eligible for the Property Tax Credit beginning in 2013. I filed my taxes, but was denied the Credit until 2015, because WDVA ignored the proof of residency and Affidavits I had submitted, with no reason given.
    In 2014, I was decertified and ordered to reapply in 2015 to be considered eligible in 2016. I reapplied in January 2016. On February 17, 2016, I received a phone call from the WDVA informing me, I had been approved for 2015 only, because the WI Department of Revenue determined my only proof of residency was my WI Driver’s License issued in 2011 and would not be eligible until 2021 (another 5 years) for any Credit. The WI Department of Veterans Affairs informed my CVSO, I had to produce Wisconsin Tax Forms from 2011 until 2015, to determine whether I should be considered a third time for any Credits. I submitted the tax forms, back to 2009, as proof of my residency as requested. I realized some of the Tax Forms indicated I had been approved for some Property Tax Credits, but none was sent to our checking account.
    On April 12, 2016, I was notified by my new CVSO, the WDVA would ONLY accept Tax Forms from 2014 and if I sent the request in before April 15, 2016, they would include 2014 for Credit. I will have to wait another 3 to 5 years (2019 to 2021) to be eligible for any remaining Credits. I do not understand why the WDVA is not granting any of the previous years I had lived here, since they originally accepted everything back to 2010.
    On April 18, 2016, my CVSO again informed me I was only “Approved” for the 2015 “Property Tax Credit” and to file my Forms. I received a conformation form from the WDVA in the mail the same day. It only applied to 2015, my wife is still NOT eligible to receive the credit if I pass away and I am DENIED any past credits. The previous 8 years have again been ignored for Residency! I am accepted back to 2011, but I am denied the Credits.
    This aggravation and uncalled for abuse, along with the Minneapolis VA denials of my rightful benefits has taken a heavy toll on my life. 3-years ago the Minneapolis VAMC chose to deny Travel Credit from Holcombe, WI to Minneapolis because I was told, “there are VA Medical Facilities closer to my home”. The only facility closer is the VA Clinic in Chippewa Falls, WI, where my Primary Doctor is located and he sends me to Minneapolis for my care because they do not have the needed services. The “Crisis Help Line” offered to send me to the Tomah, WI VAMC and would have them contact me to apply. Tomah never responded because I am in Minnesota’s jurisdiction. I am without a VAMC that will help me.
    My wife and I have little choice, but to try to sell our home in Wisconsin and move back to Minnesota, because we cannot afford to maintain it without help from the VA.
    Our financial credit rating has dropped from above 750 to the low 500’s, and we are nearing bankruptcy. I am confined to my home with very little Medical Care or Assistance and suffering from Clinical Depression, which increases with each denial received from the Department of Veterans Affairs. We are unable to get help or refinance our home due to our Credit Rating and are considering letting the bank foreclose because, even after an $80,000 renovation in 2010, the VA has valued our house at less than when we purchased it and is in need of extensive repairs. The winter heating bills average between $600 and $800 per month for electric and at least another $100 for wood for the wood burning furnace, so we are forced to close up the house in the winter and return to Minnesota to be closer to the Minneapolis VAMC or go without care or help.
    WHY? After following all the demands and doing as I was told, is the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs doing this to us? I have done nothing to invoke this lack of respect on myself! The Federal VA refuses to help because State DVAF’s are not under Federal Jurisdiction, so they can treat Veterans any way they want without fear of retribution from the Federal Government.
    Recently, I was informed that the Minneapolis VA has wrongly listed my property in Inver Grove Heights, MN as my Permanent Address. That townhouse is used for needs requiring, mostly my wife to care for her family and personal needs. I stay there when I have to go to the Minneapolis VAMC for treatment. Our Permanent home is Holcombe, WI where we are living year around.
    Tell my how you plan on “Increasing” the distance between the VA’s harassment and the Veterans rights?

    • Megan Moloney September 30, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      Mr Bauman, I’ve forwarded your comment to VA’s customer service team to see if there’s anything they can do to assist you.

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