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.
“The suicide rate among veterans age 18-24 has skyrocketed 70 percent during the past three years,” Castor told a gathering of about 50 mental health experts, researchers and veteran advocates at James A. Haley VA Hospital.
One thing Castor said she learned is that the group needed to be broadened to include active-duty military to help fight the stigma associated with asking for help.
Depression, financial debt, domestic disputes, a traumatic combat experience - any number of problems can contribute to a veteran feeling that suicide is the only way out.
Carmen Genovese, a licensed professional counselor with the Haley Suicide Prevention Team, said studies have shown that only 10 percent of veterans who commit suicide have been in combat and only 40 percent had deployed.
“The biggest problem I would say that keeps veterans from calling the Crisis Line is that they think they have to be suicidal or homicidal to call,” Genovese said. “That’s why they changed the name a few years ago.”
Genovese was among the mental health experts who attended the roundtable. Prior to coming to Haley, he worked at the Veterans Crisis Line in upper New York state.
Another item Castor gathered from the discussion is that the crisis line is for families and friends trying to get help for a troubled veteran.
“Families have got to understand where they can turn and it may not be a suicide. But it might be some economic challenge or a health challenge and there are folks who can assist,” Castor said.
She called on the attendees to share ideas and stay connected so they can maximize efforts to let veterans, active-duty military and their families know where to get help.