Salisbury VA on the front line in war against veterans' suicides - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Salisbury VA on the front line in war against veterans' suicides

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SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) -

It's a battle that right now, our nation's veterans seem to be losing.

A new report by the Veteran's Administration says that the suicide rate among veterans and active duty military is alarmingly high, and it continues to go up.

"The mental health and well-being of our courageous men and women who have served the Nation is the highest priority for VA, and even one suicide is one too many," said Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. "We have more work to do and we will use this data to continue to strengthen our suicide prevention efforts and ensure all Veterans receive the care they have earned and deserve."

In 2012 there were 349 suicides among active duty military, that's nearly one a day.  Factor in all veterans, the number comes to one suicide every sixty five minutes.   Now Washington is pumping people and resources into trying to stop this deadly trend. 

"Some of the experiences that they have are just so horrific that they stay with them far past their deployments," Dr. Christopher Watson, Ph. D. told WBTV.

"They talk about the trauma they went through in combat, the struggles they have with readjusting to civilian life," said Anne Stack, Suicide Prevention Coordinator.   "Maybe the isolation they have when they are trying to readjust to family life and they don't have their military comrades any more to adjust with with."

"All of these stressors come together sort of in a perfect storm at times to really push them towards the edge," Dr. Watson added.

Longer wars and multiple deployments are some of the reasons given for the shocking rise in the number of veterans who commit suicide.  According to the VA, it's gone from 18 a day to 22.

"We want to be the calm in the storm for them and be a supportive source," Stack added.

On the front lines in this fight against self destruction are the nation's veterans hospitals, including the Hefner VA in Salisbury.  Staff and services for troubled vets have been greatly increased with mental health and suicide specialists using training and technology that puts troubled vets face to face with psychologists.

"I have a group of four psychologists who are using clinical video clinical teleconferencing to provide what's called evidence based therapy," said Dr. Cheri Anthony, Ph. D. who serves as the Supervisory Psychologist at the Hefner VAMC.

There is a computer lab for those with traumatic brain injuries.  Those suffering PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder get treatment in a group setting or individually. VA employees are trained in dealing with suicidal patients through Operation SAVE. There is also a new web site and a crisis line for troubled vets, family members or friends who see signs of distress.

"Just dealing with the rigors and stress for any person that's on active duty," Dr. Watson added.  "There are a lot of issues they deal with on a daily basis and they're trained to be very focused, to shut off or blunt their emotions to complete the tasks that they have.  They come back state side and they pretty much have to do the opposite of that to reconnect with their families and it's such a transition for them."

"They don't want to disclose that easy, they don't want to disclose that even to their family," said Dr. German Molina, Interim Chief for Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences.  "They have to reach, they have to reach us."

"It's not just professionals that can help it's all of us being aware of this issue and reaching out a hand to help," Anthony added.

Efforts made in Salisbury can result in lives saved across the world, and Anthony says bringing suicide out of shame and shadows is vital.

"It's so difficult," Anthony said. "We're sending men and women over to protect us and they're doing it, they're doing their jobs and then they're coming home and they're feeling so bad that they don't think there's an answer for them so they choose the ultimate end and somehow we've go get a handle on that."

The Veterans Administration estimates that 26,000 suicides have been prevented since the Crisis Line was put into place. 

The report issued on Friday is the most comprehensive study of Veteran suicide rates ever undertaken by the Department. On June 16, 2010, Secretary Shinseki engaged governors of all 50 states, requesting their support in helping to collect suicide statistics. With assistance from state partners providing real-time data, VA is better able to assess the effectiveness of its suicide prevention programs and identify specific populations that need targeted interventions.

We want you to be able to get help if you or a veteran you love may be considering suicide.  The number for that Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, or you can go online for confidential chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or text to 838255.

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