Kaine pledges better support to prevent military suicides

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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — After sitting down Friday afternoon with nearly 20 active duty and civilian military members at Fort Eustis, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) says he’s getting ideas to help reduce suicide in the armed services.

He says he’ll push for better funding so that the military can get more providers of mental health services. But Kaine also takes issue with the standard for accessibility to existing services for non-active duty personnel.

“The notion that someone’s reaching out for mental health assistance and the standard that we should shoot for is 28 days, that is unacceptable.”

At a time when military suicide rates are up 6 percent from last year, Senator Tim Kaine says it takes too long to get help.

“You wouldn’t have a 28-day standard for a broken arm, you wouldn’t have a 28-day standard for a torn rotator cuff.”

Kaine says the service men and women told him that often a simple conversation with fellow unit members — peer to peer interaction — can make all the difference.

“That can be a lifesaver. The five-minute, hey I noticed something’s wrong are you doing okay? Can we have coffee, can we talk?”

Kaine says he’s also learning about veteran suicide. Contrary to popular belief, he says PTSD is not the main cause. It’s the transition from military life to civilian life.

“(They’re used to thinking) I’m in a unit where everybody’s got my back, and I’m out in society and I’m kind of a free agent and it’s the transition from being surrounded and supported, to wow, I guess they don’t have my back.”

The Norfolk-based carrier USS George H.W. Bush had three members take their own lives in September.

“We shouldn’t jump to a conclusion on that,” Kaine warned. “But I know when that happens that it’s not lost on the Navy. They’ll start to look into it — Is it something specific to the ship and its leadership or something coincidental?”

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kaine is in a key position to push for better funding when the defense budget starts coming together next spring.

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