Walk highlights importance of suicide prevention among veterans

October 1, 2018
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Balloons are released before the inaugural suicide awareness and remembrance walk presented by the Hershel "Woody" Williams VA Medical Center on Saturday in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Be there.

Whether it’s a text message or a trip to get coffee, being there for the veterans in your life is the message the suicide prevention coordinators at the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center wanted to impart on community members Saturday during the inaugural suicide prevention walk and remembrance in Ritter Park.

“Be There” was the theme of the first suicide prevention walk held off of the VA’s campus on Spring Valley Drive.

“Any small act showing that you care,” said Julie Brawn, Huntington VA suicide prevention coordinator.

The coordinators said they recently started sending monthly mailings to some of their veterans who are at risk.

“We had one veteran who said we were the only people who sent him a birthday card this year, so it’s really important to have that sense of connection,” said Deanna Stump, suicide prevention coordinator.

The walk included a balloon release for survivors to honor those they lost.

“Stigma is so big,” said Debbie Milling, suicide prevention coordinator. “We used to use the word ‘commit’ suicide, but we don’t say that anymore — we say people die by suicide, because it makes it sound like it’s a criminal act and we are trying to take that away. Family members are able to come out and feel free and non-judged in these kind of surroundings.”

The prevalence of suicide among veterans is high. 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.

According to a story in the Military Times, the suicide rate among all veterans decreased slightly but the rate among young veterans increased dramatically, per statistics released last week by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The suicide rate of veterans ages 18 to 34 steadily increased from 2006 to 2016, with a jump of more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016. That translates into 45 deaths per 100,000 veterans, the highest of any age group.

But since the majority of veterans are older, the majority of suicides are also among older veterans. Nearly 60 percent of veterans’ suicides in 2016 were of individuals 55 or older.

Veterans who have regular contact with VA health services are less likely to die by suicide than those with little or no interactions, the Military Times story said.

The suicide prevention coordinators said loved ones should be on the lookout for feelings of depression, feeling like a burden, giving away belongings, sleeping more and substance abuse. They said to ask questions and listen to your veteran.

Veterans and their families and loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 for help. They can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisis-Line.net for assistance.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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