Security reviewed after veteran kills himself inside Houston's VA Hospital

Houston VA Hospital
September 3, 2013 4:49:52 PM PDT
The numbers are staggering. The military reports 22 veterans choose to end their lives every day. One vet took his life at the VA Medical Center in Houston and that's prompting a review of security procedures.

It is illegal to bring a gun inside a VA hospital, so now police want to know how this man managed to get one inside and how to prevent it from happening again.

He walked in through a side door, entered the restroom and quietly shot himself in the head.

"A cleaning crew showed up to clean and were not able to get in through the door," explained VA Chief of Police Stanley Staton. "That's when we were called."

VA police review safety procedures twice a year. Now, local police are pushing up their scheduled review, trying to find out how a man could have gotten into the hospital with a gun. Police say he wasn't even receiving treatment here.

Staton said, "Ninety-five percent of our job here is crime prevention, making sure that we're visible, making sure that the patients, visitors, and staff know that we're here. And then five percent of what we normally do is law enforcement."

Suicide Prevention Coordinator Clifton Arnspiger explained, "It's usually a combination of things that kind of come together when somebody comes in crisis."

Arnspiger is one of the hospital's three suicide prevention coordinators.

He said, "A lot of veterans have a difficult time when they come back, finding jobs or different things like that and some can quickly end up homeless. We do have lots of services for homeless, working to eliminate that as well."

The statistics are getting worse. According to the VA's latest report, 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States -- that's nearly one every hour. Nearly 70 percent of them are age 50 or older.

"One suicide is one too many," said Arnspiger. "That's why we're working very hard to eliminate the suicides and make sure the veterans are safe."

The VA does offer a 24-hour free and confidential crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for veterans as well as their family members.

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