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VA Working To Prevent Veteran's Suicide

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Last February, President Obama signed the "Clay Hunt S.A.V. Act" into law. The act was named after a veteran who suffered from PTSD and took his own life. His friends and family fought hard for the law to make it easier for veterans to get support and prevent the growing number of suicides among the country’s vets.

"We have always been concerned with veterans and mental health issues at VA" said Dr. Caitlin Thompson is the VA’s Deputy Director of Suicide Prevention, "we actually started what is now the largest integrated suicide prevention program in the country...in 2007."

The number of veterans committing suicide has been studied extensively in recent years. A report by the VA released in 2013 estimated 22 vets take their own lives every day. And a report later that year from News 21, an investigative platform for journalism students said almost one in five suicides kin the US is a veter and veterans make up less than 10% of the population. And many feel those numbers under report the problem.

Dr. Thompson says that some of the research done on the topic has produced surprising results. "We have a perception that veterans who have been in combat or who have been deployed are at higher risk for suicide than others. But in fact, recent studies have found that veterans who have not been deployed have higher rates of suicide."

The VA has set up several forums where veterans who may have suicidal thoughts can interact with professionals and other vets. There is a veterans crisis line that can be called 24/7 (800-273-8255 - then press 1), an online chat program, even a number to text (838255).  Dr. Thompson says it’s also up to friends and family to recognize the signs that someone may need help. "If you're hearing people talking about being more hopeless than usual, that's a huge sign that they may be thinking about suicide." She also says any drastic changes in behavior, temperament, even drinking or drug habits could be warning signs. "That's an opportunity for you as a loved one to reach out and say 'Hey, I'm concerned about you. Tell me how you're doing. What's going on?'"

And Dr. Thompson says it’s not always the vet who needs that support. "We are constantly working with the DOD and other organizations to better understand suicide in (spouses and) family members, particularly family members of veterans and people who may have had suicidal behavior in the past."

This is not a new problem. There have been reports of veterans committing suicide for as long as the country has had wars. But Dr. Thompson says the support available to vets now is better than in the past. "We are getting better and better, and we have been over the years, in getting much more reliable data. At the same time we have certainly had deaths by suicide in previous wars."

Again, you can find the numbers and addresses for the VA’s Suicide Prevention Support forums at veteranscrisisline.net

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.