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veteran suicide

It's mid-morning on a weekday at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Miami, and Gloria Lewis is squeezed inside her office. Lewis, a suicide prevention coordinator at the Miami VA, sits amidst a giant, shrink-wrapped pallet of boxes. 

Outside the door, a cluster of women in matching red polo shirts are arriving to visit Lewis. They're all volunteers from the League of Women Voters in Broward County and they are feet away from what they drove down to Miami to collect.

Last year, the VA began offering mental health treatment to vets who don't normally qualify for V-A care. Since then, fewer than 200 people have used the program.

More than 20 veterans take their own lives every day in the U.S. and the majority never sought the help that was available to them.

Female veterans are nearly 2 1/2 times more likely than their civilian counterparts to kill themselves. Advocates say women's mental health challenges are different from those of men.

VA.gov / Department of Veterans Affairs

This week the Department of Veterans Affairs expanded emergency mental health care to vets with other-than-honorable discharges. It's part of an effort to curb the recent increase in veteran suicide.


The U.S. has seen an increased rate of suicide among its veterans, and those deaths can change the lives of family and friends forever. This week on Florida Matters, our special two-part program on veteran suicide and the impact it can have on comrades and loved ones continues.


Our country asks a lot of its military members, most recently during the many years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The multiple deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn have taken their toll, in part, through an increased risk in suicide, especially among young male veterans.

Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media

The Department of Veterans Affairs has grown increasingly concerned about the rise in veteran suicides in recent years.

This week on Florida Matters we're talking about the impact these deaths have on comrades and loved ones, and what support is available to help them heal. It's the first episode in a special two-part program on this issue.


Memorial Day can be especially difficult for relatives of service members who died by suicide. They often feel stigmatized, even around other military families.

Illustration by Corey Hook / Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

A new, more in-depth analysis of veteran records from all states from 1979 to 2014  indicates “that in 2014, an average of 20 Veterans a day died from suicide.”

An estimated 22 veterans a day – on average – committed suicide according to a Department of Veterans Affairs report in 2010. But that analysis was limited to data from only 20 states.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

 The nation will remember those killed while serving their country on Memorial Day in just over a week. But a local group called Veterans Counseling Veterans wants people to think about another kind of Memorial Day – one honoring those who served in uniform and died by suicide -- and is planning such as service this Sunday in Tampa at American Legion Post 5.

Monica Kim / Facebook

Alex Estrella, a former Army Ranger and Gulf War veteran, achieved his goal running 405 miles from the main gate at MacDill Air Force Base to Key West.

He optimistically hoped to complete the personal challenge in eight days. However, it took more than 12 days to reach the 0-mile marker on U.S. 1 which happened Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Erin Thompson / Facebook

Around 10:30 Monday morning, Gulf War veteran and former Army Ranger Alex Estrella, was 30 miles away from his quest that started May 21, 2015.

He created the "Run for Jamie" from Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base to Key West to honor Air Force Reserve Captain Jamie Brunette, who committed suicide in February 2015, and to raise awareness for suicide prevention and PTSD.

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Air Force Reserve Captain Jamie Brunette is described by friends as a vivacious athlete with a huge smile who loved people and loved to run. 

Malia Spranger, an Air Force Reserve colonel, served with Brunette, was her friend and business partner. They were going to open a fitness center together in March.

But Brunette, an Afghanistan War veteran, took her own life February 9, 2015.

“She was (like) a daughter to my husband and I,” Spranger said. “She is obviously terribly missed by so many people out there.”

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

There’s a statistic on veteran suicide that is repeated often: VA officials say an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. But what is not widely known about that statistic is that a majority of veterans committing suicide are older and did not serve in combat.

For our series Off the Base, WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien talked with Dr. Larry Schonfeld,  a professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida’s Florida Mental Health Institute.

VAntage blog / VA.gov

The year 2015 could bring about some momentous changes for veterans.

First, it is the year that the Department of Veterans Affairs set as the deadline for ending veteran homelessness according to a 5-year plan adopted in 2009.

“As that deadline fast approaches, I’m pleased to report that the VA has succeeded in reducing veteran homelessness by approximately 33 percent,” said US Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Veteran suicide is a real and present problem in the community. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that on average 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

That’s a straightforward statistic for a very complex problem.

Calling it a growing and troublesome trend, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Tampa organized a roundtable to discuss what is being done in the Tampa Bay area to prevent veteran suicide.