For some military veterans, life after the service brings its own challenges. It's estimated that nearly 17 veterans die by suicide every day. That's almost twice the national average for non-veterans. So for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the VA has launched a new focus on the issue. In one public service announcement, a veteran can be seen asking, "Have I ever asked for help myself?"
More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide in 2020, according to the most recent reportfrom the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Officials say those deaths are preventable, and so the VA is launching a new mental health campaign to reach veterans and their families before moments of crisis.
The PSA says, "When you realize that you're not alone, once you take that first step, there's so much support."
Denis McDonough, the secretary of Veterans Affairs under the Biden administration explains: "The PSA, this advertising, does a very good job of demonstrating what we know is true — which is our veterans are warriors and those warriors are trained to look out for their unit, to look out for their battle buddies. But as much as they support everybody else, too often they're reluctant to ask for help."
Appearing on Morning Rush, McDonough talked with Scripps News about the new online resources to help veterans with feelings of depression, isolation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health concerns.
"What we're saying to veterans and their family members is: 'Don't wait for a crisis. Reach out now,'" said McDonough.
For non-veterans, family members, caregivers and friends the website also includes resources on recognizing warning signs like agitation, isolation, sleeplessness, hopelessness or comments about suicide.
And because starting conversations about mental health can be difficult, the online toolkits also offer tips on how to listen to vets without judgment, avoid arguments and stay positive about recovery.
Above all else, experts recommend that veterans and loved ones recognize the issue early.
"Let's take some steps now so that we're ready for those inevitable crises," said McDonough.
Veterans — and anyone else who wants to help check in on the vets in their life — can go to VA.gov/reach for these important tools on how to prepare for mental health emergencies. Veterans can also contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 for crisis intervention and support 24 hours a day.
The VA reports that in 2020, suicide rates were highest among veterans age 18 to 34, and men were more likely to take their own lives than women. But 2020 also had the lowest number of veteran suicides since 2006, and experts hope the growing availability of mental health resources can continue the overall suicide prevention mission.
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