Suicide and Action Position

Let’s talk about this suicide issue for a bit.

As a combat veteran who has studied the toll that suicide takes on our veterans, I am quite concerned about the high rate of veteran suicides in Oregon and across the nation.  The last count I saw estimated that 21 vets per day on average take their own lives.  Most of them were struggling to deal with the trauma they experienced during their military service either from their participation in combat or witnessing various traumatic events.

Combat experiences often cause what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), leading sometimes to suicide ideation, attempts or fait accompli.  Many other experiences can lead there as well.  For example, police action -- such as the Capitol Police defending our democracy during the January 6 insurrection at our nation’s capitol – can cause PTSD.  Similarly, a young person being cruelly teased, severely bullied or sexually, or physically assaulted can suffer PTSD for years afterward.

While every suicide is a loss especially for the family of the victim. It seems to me especially tragic when it is a young person just beginning life and veterans because I believe they are often just beginning to re-start their lives.

While there has been a long time very effective Suicide/Crisis Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) I decided about six years ago that for someone in crisis, as I had been, would never remember that number, so I started an online petition to simplify it with a three-digit number and got over 60,000 signatures, which we submitted to the FCC and the VA asking them to act.

But our letters, emails and phone entreaties to deal with this problem were ignored until I was invited to a Habitat For Humanity home construction site that Senator Jeff Merkley was visiting. I approached the Senator explaining my concerns and asked for his help and he immediately directed his staff to work on it and make it happen. Within a week I received a call from the VA in Washington telling me they would institute a press 7 connection to the hot line on all VA voice answering device nationwide, starting with White City VA, because that is where I started the idea moving. Now, whenever a vet or family members call a VA facility the automated voice on every VA call line across the country advises the caller, if feeling suicidal, to press 7 and be connected with the hot line.

The FCC has been much slower to act however and only now is planning to implement the three-digit number (988) for the connection to the crisis lifeline. Dialing 988 does connect you to the hotline but is not yet  being advertised to the public.  Regardless, I applaud them for making this change.

Simply talking  with someone trained who cares and listens can make a huge difference to someone who is losing hope in life.

As your legislator, I will work to be sure that our state health and mental health departments and agencies are doing all they can to prevent suicides.

​​​