Justin Eldridge’s family will never fully understand why nothing seemed to ease the anguish of the young Marine and father of five, as he wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2004-05. Despite stints in VA hospitals and an array of medications, he killed himself in his Waterford home on Oct. 28, 2013. He was 31. “He did his part – he followed the treatment they gave him,” said his widow, Joanna Eldridge, who is now raising their children alone.
Nearly a third of veterans deemed at high risk for suicide don’t receive the recommended follow-up care after they’ve been discharged from Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facilities, according to a new report from the VA inspector general. The report — which comes as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grapples with a rise in suicides that claim an estimated 22 veterans’ lives a day — recommends that the VA take action to improve post-discharge follow-up for patients with acute mental health problems.
The VA requires its mental health clinicians to evaluate patients considered at high risk for suicide at least weekly for the 30 days after their discharge from Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health care. But of 215 patients whose medical records were examined by the inspector general’s office, 65, or 30 percent, did not receive all of their follow-up evaluations, the report shows. Records of 33 percent of the 215 patients did not contain documentation that a suicide-prevention coordinator or other case manager had made attempts at contact. “Although MH (mental health) providers scheduled follow-up appointments prior to patient discharge, timely post-discharge MH evaluations were not consistently provided,” the report says.