VA officials sound alarm about veteran suicide

Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 5:47 PM EST
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WHITE RIVER JCT., Vt. (WCAX) - Upwards of 21 million adults in the United States have had a major bought of depression, which can lead to suicide. During the holiday season, officials say veterans are especially vulnerable and that help is out there.

The holidays are typically a festive time for friends and family, but that is not always the case. Health care officials at the VA Medical Center in White River Jct. are sounding the alarm about suicide.

“It was hard to adjust back into being a civilian,” said William McKenna of Bradford, who served five and a half years in the Army, part of that time overseas. On Wednesday he was among those attending a PTSD group at the VA. “When I was trying to reestablish into civilian life, I went through a divorce, my children were involved.” He says he was in a dark place but eventually got help.

“What we know is that veteran rates of suicide are higher,” said Michelle Nerish, a VA suicide prevention coordinator. One reason is their access to firearms. And the holidays don’t necessarily help. “The holidays are usually very fast-paced, very stressful.”

Anyone who is struggling with their own self-worth can call the new nationwide Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. “Part of our mission is to encourage people to talk openly with their veterans or with their loved ones,” said Brooke Whalen, a VA suicide prevention coordinator.

At the VA, they also encourage loved ones to practice “SAVE” by looking for Signs, Asking how someone is doing, Validating their feelings, and Expediting treatment. “It is definitely ok to ask somebody if they are doing ok,” Whalen said.

Treatment includes something they call motivational interviewing. “Really, just helping people understand what the pros and cons are of them getting therapy,” explained Dr. Glenna Roussea, a VA psychologist. She says while the holidays can be a trigger, spring is right around the corner. “It will get lighter, it will get better. And it can be a smoother route and a quick route if you ask for help. And we are here.”

McKenna says he is a success story. “Ask anybody for help, even if it is somebody who doesn’t know where to go,” he said.

Officials say part of the mission at the VA is simply to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and let people know they are not alone.

Click here for additional resources from the VA.

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