Los Angeles County’s new Veteran Suicide Review Team met for the first time Thursday, Sept. 29, kick-starting an innovative and collaborative approach to reducing veteran suicide in the county.
The Veteran Suicide Review Team consists of professionals from multiple disciplines, with the effort being jointly led by the county’s Departments of Mental Health, Public Health and Medical Examiner/Coroner, along with representatives from the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, city of Los Angeles and federal, state and private agencies.
Team members will implement a data-driven and collaborative death review process to systemically analyze veteran suicides. Their mission is to identify gaps to increase enhanced support extended to veterans.
L.A County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who co-authored the motion that created the Veteran Suicide Review Team in May 2022, addressed the more than 40 team members gathered at the L.A. County Department of Mental Health headquarters at the start of the meeting.
“The Veteran Suicide Review Team is the first of its kind in the State of California,” said Barger. “Each of you in this room is making a difference in the lives of the individuals that have given their lives for us and our freedom. We have a golden opportunity to use all the resources and expertise we have at county, state, and federal levels to put the pieces of this puzzle together to course correct and prevent the loss of lives to suicide. This is a historic moment in Los Angeles County, and I thank you all for being a part of it.”
La Tina Jackson, Deputy Director of L.A. County’s Department of Mental Health’s Countywide Engagement Division, spoke about the need to address suicide in the veteran community.
“The unfortunate reality is that veterans die by suicide at four times more than the national average,” said Jackson. “They have a 57 percent higher risk for death by suicide than those who have not served. This is the disproportionate but preventable burden that each of us gathered here today have made a commitment to course correct. It is that commitment, that promise to our veterans and their families that we commence and commemorate today.”
Jim Zenner, Director of L.A. County’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Army veteran, shared insights from his lived experience.
“When you get out of the military, you feel like you’re not connected to your community,” Zenner stated. “I personally think suicide is an access issue. Every man and woman who serves our country, that ends up taking their life by suicide, was not reached in time. We missed an opportunity to connect with them. We must do more to bring them in, to help them feel like they are a part of the community.”