Federal suicide prevention efforts in coming months will include increased focus on veterans’ access to firearms, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said during a Capitol Hill appearance Wednesday.
“It is key,” he said during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on his department’s recent efforts to address the problem. “Seventy percent of veterans who (die by suicide) do so with firearms. We’re dealing with a population that has a special familiarity with firearms. So we’re working on ways to build time and space … between thoughts and impulsive acts.”
The comments came just two days after the first formal meeting of a new presidential task force on preventing veterans suicide, part of a year-long effort to re-energize government’s approach to the problem.
The group, which includes eight cabinet officials and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, named as its executive director Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of the mental health advocacy organization Give an Hour. Wilkie said the work ahead will help establish a strategic plan to coordinate federal, state and community efforts on prevention.
And he also said that work will include discussions of firearms. The topic has long been a problematic political debate on Capitol Hill, with critics calling any discussion of limiting unstable veterans’ access to weapons a violation of their constitutional rights.
But Wilkie said his department has already partnered with several firms to provide gun locks to veterans, and is looking at additional education for veterans on firearms storage and safety issues.
That will include gun safety instruction for veterans caregivers, and more information for veterans families about resources on firearms storage and services.
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