SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - By the time this day is over, 20 veterans are likely to have committed suicide, according to numbers released by the Veterans Administration.
Doing something to bring that number down has become a top priority of the VA, and of the director of the veterans hospital that serves the Charlotte area.
One of the people who had the biggest influence in the life of Salisbury VA Medical Center Director Joseph Vaughan, took his own life.
“He was actually the person that talked me into coming to work for the VA, so it’s very personal for me," Vaughn said.
On Tuesday, Vaughan combined his personal and professional sides to speak to veterans about suicide, and what the VA offers to help.
“I’ve set suicide prevention as one of my priorities and about 70% of veterans who commit suicide either have not been to a VA recently or never been at all," Vaughn added.
“In 2016, the most recent data available, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times greater than for Americans who never served in the military. About 20 veterans a day across the country take their own lives, and veterans accounted for 14 percent of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2016, even though only 8 percent of the country’s population has served in the military.” (From The Military Times, September 26, 2018.)
Many resources are available, Vaughn says, and it can begin with something as simple as phone call to the Veterans Crisis Line.
Vaughn spoke Tuesday at the gathering of veterans at the Frontier Coffee Shop at Thelma’s Down Home Country Cookin' in Salisbury. Veterans of all ages meet to enjoy coffee and doughnuts, swapping stories, and in many cases, sharing their pain with friends who can truly relate.
US Navy Chaplain Meretle Wilson says sometimes just having someone to listen can go a long way.
“Veterans who hear it need to take time and listen to the individual, sometimes just listening can cause the guy to talk himself out of it," Wilson said.
The VA has ramped up its awareness efforts when it comes to veteran suicides. A recent report from the Wall Street Journal suggested mixed results, with the suicide rate among all veterans decreasing, but increasing among younger vets. Director Vaughn wants all to know that help is available.
“Don’t lose hope, don’t think that you don’t matter because you do…let us help you," Vaughn said.
To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.