BENTONVILLE – The secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs came to Bentonville on Tuesday to meet with community groups from across the state on veteran suicide prevention.
"Veterans were trained to put a mission or others ahead of themselves," Secretary Denis McDonough told a crowd of at least 80 in a panel discussion about suicide prevention at the University of Arkansas Global Campus in Bentonville. "That can make it hard to ask for help."
The department works with faith and community leaders and wants to improve this coordination, he told the audience. His remarks were followed by an hour-long discussion between those group representatives and a panel of federal, regional and state veteran agencies, including administrators of the state's two major VA hospitals.
The department's 2022 report on veteran suicides reported a decline in the rate compared to recent years but an average number of suicides among veterans still higher than the population in general. The study found a suicide rate 57.3% greater for veterans than for non-veterans in 2020, the most recent year with complete statistics. The study found an average of 16.8 veteran suicides per day in 2020.
The department is in a constant battle against the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health, McDonough told the group.
"It's the narrative, not the veterans, that are broken," he said.
Amy Perry of Hope, chaplain for the nonprofit veterans' group We Are the 22, told the secretary the biggest complaint by far for veterans seeking help was not being able to get their prescriptions filled.