More than 2 million women across the country have bravely served in our Nation’s armed forces. In fact, they’re the fastest-growing group of Veterans today. For many women Veterans, returning to civilian life can bring challenges that may contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression — and even lead to thoughts of suicide. Working on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide prevention efforts, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial it is to provide and increase women Veterans’ access to high-quality healthcare, connecting them with the care they deserve before they reach a crisis point.
At VA, we’re working hard to expand our services for women Veterans and raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention resources. Our goal is for all women Veterans to have access to local services, treatment, and support that address their unique needs, enhance their overall well-being, and help prevent suicide. Our initiatives include:
- Outpatient mental health services: Mental health services are available through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics, and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country to provide a wider network of care. Find support resources near you at VeteransCrisisLine.net/ResourceLocator.
- Specialty treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Every VA medical center offers evidence-based therapies for PTSD, including prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy, which have been shown to decrease thoughts of suicide.
- Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma (MST): VA is committed to providing services to support and meet the treatment needs of all Veterans who have experienced MST.
- Specialized women’s health services: Every VA medical center has a dedicated Women Veterans Program Manager who advocates for women Veterans, connects them with relevant providers, and ensures that they get the care they deserve.
- Women Veterans Call Center: This service provides women Veterans with information about VA benefits and services that are relevant to them. Call 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636) to contact responders who can make referrals to local resources.
You have an important role in supporting women Veterans in your life and in your community. Simple actions like calling up a friend, meeting up for coffee, or volunteering together can make a big difference for a Veteran who is going through a tough time. There are many ways you can help:
- Learn about resources. There are VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPC) at every VA medical center who connect women Veterans at risk for suicide with care. Find an SPC near you and get information about local mental health services at VeteransCrisisLine.net/ResourceLocator.
- Start the conversation. Know that by asking people if they are having thoughts of suicide does not increase their risk; in fact, talking about these feelings can be an enormous relief. Let the Veteran you care about know that you’re there and ready to listen if they want to talk. Learn how to start that conversation and show support at VeteransCrisisLine.net/StartTheConversation.
- Spread the word in your community. You can download materials such as flyers, social media posts, and newsletter articles at VeteransCrisisLine.net/SpreadTheWord. Organizing events for local mental health experts and community members to share information is another great way to raise awareness.
If you or someone you know is a Veteran who may be at risk for suicide, caring, qualified Veterans Crisis Line responders are available 24/7/365. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
About the Author
Dr. Megan McCarthy is the Deputy Director at the Suicide Prevention Virginia Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.