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VA details increase in vets shooting selves

Spacecraft recovery ship Murtha makes unplanned return to San Diego

No smooth sailing without lube: USS John P. Murtha
No smooth sailing without lube: USS John P. Murtha

VA’s shooting suicides

San Diego’s Veterans Administration Health Care system has fallen short in its efforts to deal with the growing number of loaded guns in the hands of suicidal patients, according to a newly released audit. “In 2019, an average of approximately 17 veterans died by suicide each day, with 69 percent of veteran deaths by suicide due to self-inflicted firearms injury,” says a November 17 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Further, although non-veteran firearm-involved suicide deaths decreased from 2001 to 2019, firearm-involved suicide deaths rose 3 percent among male veterans and 13 percent among female veterans.” Making the problem especially critical, the report says, is that “approximately 85 percent of individuals who attempt suicide with a firearm die from their injury, and the time interval between deciding to act and attempting suicide may be just 5 or 10 minutes. A study of 135 individuals who died by suicide found that individuals storing a loaded gun or publicly carrying a gun was associated with a four-fold increase in the likelihood of death by suicide.”

VA San Diego: trying to teach veterans about gun safety.

But prying loaded guns from reluctant patients’ hands isn’t easy. The study notes that while the VA program seeks only to provide counseling regarding safe gun use and storage, many patients fear revealing their at-home weapons stashes to government workers, suspecting that the guns will be unjustly seized.

“Most clinicians reported that educational and cultural barriers such as mistrust of authority or government systems, fear of infringement of Second Amendment rights, and reluctance to give up means of self-protection were factors that might impede patient disclosure of firearms access.” To deal with such reluctance, VA workers are supposed to undergo a so-called Lethal Means Safety Education and Counseling course, but the program has fallen short, with San Diego having only 86 percent worker compliance, well below the minimum 90 percent threshold, the document says.

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“Given the prevalence of firearm-related suicidal behavior among veterans and the effectiveness of diminished access to firearms in the reduction of suicide, suicide risk assessment, and safety planning should include both firearms access information and discussion of safe storage,” the audit notes. “Safe firearm storage,” per the document, includes “storage in a gun safe or lock box; and storing the firearm unloaded and separate from ammunition.”

Casualty at sea

It was a quick U-turn for the amphibious warship USS John P. Murtha, which was forced to return to its home port of San Diego after just a week at sea, due to “an unspecified maintenance issue,” reports the website USNI.org. “Ship spotters saw the 25,000-ton warship entering San Diego harbor on Tuesday.” The Murtha left San Diego on November 9 for its deployment as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group. The turnaround was quick, with the Murtha leaving again on November 17. “A spokesperson from Expeditionary Strike Group 3 told USNI News that the Murtha suffered a casualty in the ship’s lube oil system that was repaired. The spokesperson did not have additional details on the casualty.”

The Murtha has been certified as a recovery ship for NASA’s unmanned Orion spacecraft, set to splash down off the San Diego coast on December 11 following its orbiting of the moon, but “it’s unclear what San Antonio-class ship the Navy will use to recover the Orion capsule,” says USNI. “As soon as Orion splashes down in the Pacific after its lunar mission, a team of divers, engineers, and technicians will depart the ship on small boats and arrive at the capsule,” reads a NASA news release from November 9, 2021.

“Once there, they will secure it and prepare to tow it into the back of the ship, known as the well deck. To ensure Orion is stabilized while in the water, engineers will attach it to an assembly that acts as an oversized fishing reel that can be adjusted pneumatically to secure the capsule while inside the well deck of the ship.” According to a July 17, 2021, ArsTechnica.com dispatch on the water return, “Orion’s recovery procedures are rated to accommodate winds of up to 25 knots and a wide range of seas. Astronauts will also have access to a life raft, life preservers, and other basic survival equipment.”

— Matt Potter (@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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No smooth sailing without lube: USS John P. Murtha
No smooth sailing without lube: USS John P. Murtha

VA’s shooting suicides

San Diego’s Veterans Administration Health Care system has fallen short in its efforts to deal with the growing number of loaded guns in the hands of suicidal patients, according to a newly released audit. “In 2019, an average of approximately 17 veterans died by suicide each day, with 69 percent of veteran deaths by suicide due to self-inflicted firearms injury,” says a November 17 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Further, although non-veteran firearm-involved suicide deaths decreased from 2001 to 2019, firearm-involved suicide deaths rose 3 percent among male veterans and 13 percent among female veterans.” Making the problem especially critical, the report says, is that “approximately 85 percent of individuals who attempt suicide with a firearm die from their injury, and the time interval between deciding to act and attempting suicide may be just 5 or 10 minutes. A study of 135 individuals who died by suicide found that individuals storing a loaded gun or publicly carrying a gun was associated with a four-fold increase in the likelihood of death by suicide.”

VA San Diego: trying to teach veterans about gun safety.

But prying loaded guns from reluctant patients’ hands isn’t easy. The study notes that while the VA program seeks only to provide counseling regarding safe gun use and storage, many patients fear revealing their at-home weapons stashes to government workers, suspecting that the guns will be unjustly seized.

“Most clinicians reported that educational and cultural barriers such as mistrust of authority or government systems, fear of infringement of Second Amendment rights, and reluctance to give up means of self-protection were factors that might impede patient disclosure of firearms access.” To deal with such reluctance, VA workers are supposed to undergo a so-called Lethal Means Safety Education and Counseling course, but the program has fallen short, with San Diego having only 86 percent worker compliance, well below the minimum 90 percent threshold, the document says.

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Sponsored

“Given the prevalence of firearm-related suicidal behavior among veterans and the effectiveness of diminished access to firearms in the reduction of suicide, suicide risk assessment, and safety planning should include both firearms access information and discussion of safe storage,” the audit notes. “Safe firearm storage,” per the document, includes “storage in a gun safe or lock box; and storing the firearm unloaded and separate from ammunition.”

Casualty at sea

It was a quick U-turn for the amphibious warship USS John P. Murtha, which was forced to return to its home port of San Diego after just a week at sea, due to “an unspecified maintenance issue,” reports the website USNI.org. “Ship spotters saw the 25,000-ton warship entering San Diego harbor on Tuesday.” The Murtha left San Diego on November 9 for its deployment as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group. The turnaround was quick, with the Murtha leaving again on November 17. “A spokesperson from Expeditionary Strike Group 3 told USNI News that the Murtha suffered a casualty in the ship’s lube oil system that was repaired. The spokesperson did not have additional details on the casualty.”

The Murtha has been certified as a recovery ship for NASA’s unmanned Orion spacecraft, set to splash down off the San Diego coast on December 11 following its orbiting of the moon, but “it’s unclear what San Antonio-class ship the Navy will use to recover the Orion capsule,” says USNI. “As soon as Orion splashes down in the Pacific after its lunar mission, a team of divers, engineers, and technicians will depart the ship on small boats and arrive at the capsule,” reads a NASA news release from November 9, 2021.

“Once there, they will secure it and prepare to tow it into the back of the ship, known as the well deck. To ensure Orion is stabilized while in the water, engineers will attach it to an assembly that acts as an oversized fishing reel that can be adjusted pneumatically to secure the capsule while inside the well deck of the ship.” According to a July 17, 2021, ArsTechnica.com dispatch on the water return, “Orion’s recovery procedures are rated to accommodate winds of up to 25 knots and a wide range of seas. Astronauts will also have access to a life raft, life preservers, and other basic survival equipment.”

— Matt Potter (@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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