September is Suicide Prevention Month, an especially important time to focus on helping veterans and their families who struggle with mental health. In the United States, veterans account for a disproportionate number of suicide cases, making it crucial to raise awareness about suicide prevention resources tailored to their unique needs.
Suicide is an epidemic in the veteran community. According to Stop Soldier Suicide:
- Veterans are at a 57% higher risk of suicide than non-veterans
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in veterans under 45 years old
- Since 2001, more than 125,000 veterans have died by suicide
- There were an estimated 6,146 veteran suicides in 2020 (an average 17 per day)
- More than 6,000 veterans a year have died by suicide for 20 consecutive years
Many factors contribute to the suicide epidemic, including combat-related trauma, transitioning to civilian life, and dealing with physical injuries or disabilities. These burdens can exacerbate feelings of isolation, depression, and hopelessness, increasing the risk of suicide.
But in the face of these challenges, there is hope for healing. Healing can start with a simple conversation or connection.
Here are just a few of the resources available and ideas for supporting those in need of help. (**This is not a comprehensive list of resources**)
Veterans Crisis Line
The Veterans Crisis Line, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offers free, confidential support 24/7. Veterans, their family members, or concerned friends can simply dial 988 then press 1, text 838255, or chat online to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
The Veterans Crisis Line is for veterans, service members, National Guard and reserve members, and their loved ones. The VCL website offers additional resources, including a function to search for local resources.
Vet Call Center
Also managed by the VA, the Vet Call Center is a confidential call center where combat veterans and family members can talk about military and readjustment experiences while maintaining anonymity with the staff. The Vet Center is staffed with combat veterans and family members who understand the callers’ perspectives and experiences. That number is 877-927-8387.
Sometimes the greatest help to someone in struggling with their mental health is to be a listening ear, especially those you’ve served with.
Reach out to friends and battle buddies to check in and offer support, especially if their behavior seems different. And if you’re struggling, connect with a friend and share what’s going on.
Nonprofit organizations who offer veteran support
Numerous nonprofit organizations are dedicated to supporting veterans’ mental health. You can find access to crisis resources and/or mental health services through organizations including:
- Stop Solider Suicide – 844-317-1136
- Lifeline for Vets – 888-777-4443
- Health.mil – Psychological health resource center live chat
- Project:REBIRTH – 407-492-5974
- National Alliance on Mental Health – Homefront
- Wounded Warrior Project – WWP Talk
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- Headstrong Project
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list and should be researched on an individual basis.
Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs)
VSOs such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) offer a variety of programs and resources. They can assist with everything from navigating VA benefits to providing camaraderie and emotional support.
Mental health services
The VA offers mental health services, as do non-VA providers all over the country.
Look into what is offered at your local VA to address longer-term mental health care. You can also learn about access to community care using VA benefits through CVA Foundation’s VA MISSION Act webpage. This page is a re-creation of a previous VA website that gives information about community care outside the VA.
Addressing mental health through traditional therapy or alternative forms of therapy like the below can improve physical and mental health and start the journey toward healing.
- Getting outdoors
- Equine-assisted therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Owning and training service animals
Suicide among veterans is a sobering issue, but it’s not insurmountable.
By spreading awareness about these suicide prevention resources, encouraging other veterans to seek help, and being a support system, we can provide hope and healing to those who have sacrificed so much for our country.
Reaching out for support is a sign of strength and bravery, and no one should face the battle alone.