Neighbor to Neighbor: Veteran suicide

Posted:  Saturday, April 21, 2018 - 8:30am
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Neighbor to Neighbor: a series of articles to raise awareness of suicide prevention and support resources available in our community. Sponsored by your local Hope & Resiliency Coalition

The Hope & Resiliency Coalition is a group of committed community members who gather regularly to support the both enhancement of suicide prevention as well as those impacted by suicide loss. We sponsor this series of articles to invite our neighbors to take advantage of the services and supports available in our community to assist those struggling with any number of challenges that could include hopelessness, loss, substance misuse or mental health related concerns.

Since forming in the summer of 2016 the Coalition has hosted multiple community and professional events in collaboration with others: Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club, Boothbay Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Boothbay Harbor Police Department, The Family Care Center, The Community Center, Boothbay Region Community Resource Council, New Hope for Women, Coulombe Center for Health Improvement, St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Maine) and Maine Center for Disease Control.

This is a fifth of a series of articles intended to share resources which are available to our neighbors.

Veteran Suicide Awareness

By David Patch, CDR/USN (Ret.)

No one likes to talk about suicide, yet most everyone knows someone who has taken his or her own life. All communities have been affected, and the Boothbay region is no exception. This article focuses on one segment, veteran suicide.

There is no shortage of information about suicide and lots of statistical data. For example, per a 2016 data report by the VA, of the approximately 11,6782 veterans in Maine, 55 veterans died by suicide; only six of those were being treated by the VA. There are various assumptions being made based on the data, for example, it is unlikely that the remaining 49 veterans not seeking help from the VA, were seeking help from any professional. But, just a few 2014 National VA statistics:

  • Nationally, 20 veterans died by suicide every day.
  • 65 percent of veteran suicides were 50 years old or older.
  • 67 percent of all veteran deaths by suicide were the result of firearm injuries.
  • Of all suicides (all citizens) nationally, 51 percent are caused by firearms, 26 percent by suffocation, 15 percent by poison, and 8 percent other.
  • Suicide was 22 percent higher among veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adults.
  • Female veterans’ risk of suicide was 2.5 times higher among female veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adult woman.
  • Female veterans are at a higher risk of suicide than male veterans…but
  • Nationally, of the total population, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.
  • Married veterans (or in a live-in relationship) are at a higher risk of committing suicide than their single counterparts.

Suicide is a serious problem. This is not just a national problem but a local problem as well. The Maine VA/Togus, Maine Bureau of Veterans Services (MBVS), and the Maine Vet Centers are tackling this problem head on and aggressively.

On December 12, 2017, I attended the first ever Military Veterans Symposium with the topic of “Preventing Veteran Suicide.” Unlike many symposiums, all those who attended where told that they would have to commit to being part of the solution. We all had to complete a form where we are required to state just what we would do to be part of the solution. My commitment was to make the Boothbay region aware of the veteran suicide issue and be part of the community effort addressing all suicide in the community. So, awareness is critically important.

Information about suicide and suicide risk prevention is readily available. A Google search will provide a wealth of information. Suicide risk factors for veterans (and currently serving military) mirror those for society in general. PTSD and TBI often associated with the military and first responders compound the risk factors. It is not the intent of this article to provide the risk factors, warning signs, or immediate actions to take. But, organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org) provide information on all aspects of the suicide, both in the civilian population and the military/veteran community.

As a community we need to educate ourselves, know the warning signs and know what we can do. “It isn’t any of my business” or “If I ask someone if they are thinking of committing suicide, I might be putting that thought into their heads” are simply turning your back on the problem and not being part of the solution. Observing someone with depression, anxiety, irritability, agitation, rage and/or increase their use of alcohol, drugs, actually are looking for a way to kill themselves (online searches for example), withdrawing, isolating, giving away prized possessions, calling to say good-bye are just examples that signal a risk. Knowing what to do when you observe these signs is critically important.

For veterans, the VA has mental health professionals both at Togus and at the Community Based Outreach Clinics (CBOCs) and, for combat veterans and veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma, the Veteran Centers are available. On the peninsula, unfortunately, Togus is the nearest VA facility (50 minutes away) and the nearest CBOC and Vet Center are in Lewiston. We veterans in the community need to support veterans who are dealing with issues and exhibiting the warning signs of suicide by making a serious effort to get those veterans to the seek the help they need, VA or otherwise. And, of course, our local law enforcement professionals are there to support us as well. Think about what you would do if you saw these warning signs. Who would you turn to or notify? How would you talk to a person who exhibits these risk factors? Who in the community are the experts that can provide the help needed, either by the relative, friend, or the person in distress?

So, be informed, know what to do, be part of the solution.