Risk of suicide is higher for veterans, but VA caregivers say help is available

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Those who put their life on the line to keep us safe are sometimes fighting an inner battle when they come home.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and White River Junction VA Medical Center is making sure veterans get the help they need. 

Matt Bouchard, a social worker at the VA’s Burlington Lakeside Clinic, served in the Vermont National Guard for ten years. He said many veterans seeking mental health treatment prefer to talk to another veteran.

“I think often veterans can feel like the civilian population can’t recognize or understand the things that they are feeling and that could be really challenging for them,” Bouchard said. 

The 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report shows the rate of suicide among veterans who received recent VA care decreased by 2.4%.

Dr. Laura Gibson, the Associate Chief of Mental Health for the VA Healthcare System, said periodic check-ins are important.

“Veterans are an important group because they are at an elevated risk for suicide,” she said. “In general about 20% of the folks who are seeking care in our whole system are eventually seen in mental health.”

Bouchard said it can be lonely to be a part of any unique population. When veterans return from service, he hears a lot of second guessing from them. 

“A lot of thoughts, whether they are guilt or shame, based around decisions that were made or things that may have happened,”  Bouchard said. 

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, warning signs include: talking about wanting to die, talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, and talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

“Reach out now and know that the help is here,” Bouchard said. “Don’t waste time second guessing.”

The veterans crisis line is 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. 

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