The issue of veterans entering veteran administration (VA) hospitals with armed guns, weapons, knives, and while under the influence of drugs and alcohol has been in the for years now. Although there are federal laws prohibiting the same, many veterans have ignored the laws. The federal laws require VA hospitals to have effective screening systems that can detect metals and guns as well as test whether or not a veteran is under the influence of drug or alcohol abuse. However, the VA hospital I work in does not have any screening system to detect weapons and systems to test for drug and alcohol substance abuse. Many veterans take advantage of the laxity not knowing healthcare safety risks they pose to themselves, healthcare providers and other patients. For instance, they pose an increased risk for violence within the hospital, which may lead to fatalities.
Gun-related violence and fatalities are a concern in the United States, and it claims lives of 23,000 people every year. The problem is not getting any better since over the past decade, gun-related violence and fatalities have increased by 19 percent (Tucker, 2019). At least one in every five gun-related cases involves a veteran. An average of 4200 veterans, patients, and health providers die every year in VA hospitals. This translates to approximately 11 deaths in a day experienced across all VA hospitals in the country (Anestis & Houtsma, 2017). Fire-arm related violence and fatalities involving veterans have significantly increased by 33 percent from 2005 to date (Ammerman & Reger, 2020). Most of these cases are usually related to drug or substance abuse and mental illness amongst veterans. In the VA hospital I work in, we have experienced cases related to firearm or weapon-related violence and fatalities over in the last week. The first case involved a veteran committing suicide at the hospital’s waiting room. The case was associated with mental illness. The other cases involved veterans causing violence that led to the injury of four health providers and one patient succumbing to multiple knife stubs. It is believed that the patient was in bad terms with the veteran.
To ensure health safety in VA hospitals without effective screening systems, especially the one I work in, there is a need to promote secure weapon and gun storage practices. Veterans are more likely to be armed with guns and knives at all times as compared to non-veterans. VA hospitals should have firearm or weapon storage lockers by the gate and establish laws that bar veterans from entering into the hospitals with guns or knives. For firearm storage, the best storage practices would include unloading the ammunition, locking the firearm, and storing the firearm and ammunition in separate locations where a veteran cannot access (Simonetti, Azrael, Rowhani-Rahbar, & Miller, 2018). Building veteran awareness about the risk associated with the entry of firearms and weapons into VA hospitals would also be important. Building awareness amongst veterans may help to mitigate the risks of violence and fatalities in VA hospitals (Green et al., 2018). It would also be appropriate for healthcare professionals to have conversations with veteran patients about issues related to entry with guns and weapons into VA hospitals and risks of the same (Valenstein et al., 2018). Both veterans and health professionals should have the responsibility of identifying risks associated with the entry of guns into hospitals.
Firearm-related violence and fatalities involving veterans have increased across the U.S. by 33 percent from 2005 to date. Most of these cases are associated with drug or alcohol abuse and mental illness. To ensure safety at hospitals, it is imperative to educate veterans about the risks associated with the entry of guns and weapons into VA hospitals. It would also be important to adopt secure firearm and weapon storage practices mitigate the risks.
Ammerman, B. A., & Reger, M. A. (2020). Evaluation of prevention efforts and risk factors among veteran suicide decedents who died by firearm. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. https://doi.org/10.1111/sltb.12618
Anestis, M. D., & Houtsma, C. (2017). The association between gun ownership and statewide overall suicide rates. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 48(2), 204–217. https://doi.org/10.1111/sltb.12346
Green, J. D., Kearns, J. C., Rosen, R. C., Keane, T. M., & Marx, B. P. (2018). Evaluating the effectiveness of safety plans for military veterans: Do safety plans tailored to veteran characteristics decrease suicide risk? Behavior Therapy, 49(6), 931–938. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2017.11.005
Simonetti, J. A., Azrael, D., Rowhani-Rahbar, A., & Miller, M. (2018). Firearm storage practices among American veterans. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 55(4), 445–454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.04.014
Tucker, R. P. (2019). Suicide in transgender veterans: Prevalence, prevention, and implications of current policy. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(3), 452–468. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691618812680
Valenstein, M., Walters, H., Pfeiffer, P., Ganoczy, D., Miller, M., Fiorillo, M., & Bossarte, R. (2018). Acceptability of potential interventions to increase firearm safety among patients in VA mental health treatment. General Hospital Psychiatry, 55, 77–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2018.10.010