Drive past the Atlanta VA Medical Center on Clairmont Road and you may notice a curious new feature that stands as a stark reminder of the struggles too many veterans face in 2016.
Over the winter, officials at the medical center completed installation of a new anti-climbing fence that sits atop the parking decks used by thousands of veterans each month. The fence is 10 feet tall and is a welded mesh wire construction that makes it difficult to climb. Officials also enclosed the lower levels of the decks with regular chain link fencing.
The $850,000 project is a response to a pair of incidents where suicidal veterans threatened to jump from the decks. In both instances, the veterans were talked down and received care and treatment for their mental health issues.
"Based on these events and to enhance the overall safety of the facility, the Atlanta VAMC installed the anti-climbing fences on several parking structures," said VA spokesman Greg Kendall.
The VA in Atlanta has been plagued by suicides in the past.
In 2013, a rash of veteran suicides at the center were blamed on mismanagement within its mental health unit. In 2014, the center was on the hot seat after the tragic murder-suicide of marine veteran Kisha Holmes. She killed her three children and then herself at the family's Cobb County apartment, but VA officials knew she was in distress and had identified her as a suicide risk.
She had missed three appointments at the VA before her final act. Later that year, an employee at the VA benefits office died after jumping or falling from a deck on the property.
The VA across the country has struggled for years to stem the epidemic of veteran suicides that followed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many veterans returning from war suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health issues, and the VA system has been overwhelmed trying to serve them.
"Ensuring that employees and veterans have an environment that fosters physical and psychological safety is one of the primary goals at the Atlanta VA Medical Center," Kendall said. "The Atlanta VAMC cares deeply for our nation’s veterans, and it is a privilege to serve them."
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