On November 19th, 2018, our Director of Policy & Legislative Advocacy, Sam Molik, testified before the NYC Council Committees on Aging and Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction in an oversight hearing on mental wellness in older adults.
The hearing also considered Introduction 1180, which would require caseworkers providing services at senior centers to complete the mental health first aid training course for older adults offered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and to complete a refresher training course at least once every three years.
Below is his testimony:
Good morning and thank you to Chair Chin and Chair Ayala and the Committees for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Samuel Molik and I am Director of Policy and Legislative Advocacy for the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-driven, grassroots policy advocacy and community-building organization that advances veterans and their families as civic leaders.
On behalf of our members and supporters, we state our strong support for requiring case workers providing services at senior centers to complete the mental health first aid training courses for older adults offered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and to complete a refresher training course at least once every three years. We do, however, urge this committee to further include in the language of Intro. 1180 referral and specialized veteran-specific training to address the fact that veterans, and especially elder veterans, are dying by suicide at nearly twice the rate of their civilian counterparts, and have specific needs and indicators requiring this focus and attention.
The NYC veteran population is particularly vulnerable to suicide and substance abuse compared to their civilian counterparts. A high prevalence of substance (5.7%) and alcohol use disorders (5.4%) in older veterans were found in the elderly veteran population and according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs own reporting, the suicide rate of veterans is nearly twice that of civilians in New York. At particular risk is our elder population. Currently, 53% of veterans living in New York are 65 years and older. and the largest proportion of veteran suicides in New York was among veterans over the age of 55.
At the same time, there is data available on effective ways to mitigate this crisis of veteran suicide and mental wellness for the elder veteran community. In particular, it is well established that, nationwide, 70% of veterans who died by suicide were not receiving VA health care treatment, which suggests that healthcare intervention may mitigate suicide risks.
In addition to VA healthcare, we see programmatic approaches such as community-based surveillance and case management as proven mitigating strategies for suicide prevention. We applaud the committee for being proactive in their approach to helping mitigate this crisis. It is also well documented that effective suicide prevention training is essential for achieving and eventually maintaining a near nonexistent suicide rate.
For these reasons, we at the NYC Veterans Alliance urge the inclusion of veteran-specific language specifying reporting, referrals and coordination prior to passage of Intro. 1180.
On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.