Suicide prevention resources expand for veterans in the East

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Monday was World Mental Health Day.

According to Veterans Affairs’ annual suicide report, suicide is the second leading cause of death for all veterans ages 18 to 44.

Now, resources are being expanded to help lower those rates among service members.

Mental health is a fight that extends far beyond the time in the service.

“When you’re on the mission, you’re you’re only focused on accomplishing what you have to do to bring everybody home,” Eric Sowers, Marine veteran said.

Speaking of then returning home, Sowers said, “I think it’s a little harder ‘cause it’s another mission, it’s a personal mission, when it’s just you… and a lot of us don’t feel like we deserve… even though we’ve earned these different benefits.”

Sowers, who says he suffered from PTSD and suicidal ideation, feels that one of the many challenges of getting help in his area is finding it.

“I would say it’s much harder because it doesn’t feel like the resources are here in North Carolina… at least I can say that,” Sowers said.

Experts say the numbers back up Sowers’ feeling. They say 20% to 30% of veterans commit suicide, and of those, only 20% to 30% are contacted by the VA.

“It’s extremely prevalent, you know? It’s beating out heart disease, cancer, and all these known health conditions that veterans experience. We train veterans to suffer in silence and then expect them to scream for help and that doesn’t always happen,” Tim Driscoll with Veterans Services of the Carolinas said.

With the federal funding now being set aside to address the issue, Driscoll says roughly $3 million will go toward resources at Veterans Services of the Carolinas and other organizations in partnership with the VA for suicide prevention.

“They recognize that these veterans are somewhere else in the community so this was the VA’s first attempt to prevent suicide in a different fashion,” Driscoll said.

With Sowers being someone that has learned healthy coping mechanisms, he sees it as an opportunity to pay it forward.

“Because I have experience with going there, then I can help other veterans here, coming in and deal with the same stuff I was dealing with, some anger and everything,” Sowers said. “And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with you, [you] have a situation that has to be dealt with.”

Driscoll says part of the VA suicide prevention funding includes education throughout the state going to certify anyone who may be interested in mental health, first aid and CPR, and suicide prevention techniques. The link to register can be found here.

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