VA gains new allies in battle against suicide

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Department of Veterans Affairs in Salt Lake reached out Wednesday to new allies in the community in its ongoing battle against suicide among veterans.

One in five suicides in the United States is committed by a military veteran.

The VA hosted the Interfaith Roundtable to talk about suicide prevention in their congregations.

Suicide rates among our veterans remain high: One in five suicides in the United States is committed by a veteran. As a VA chaplain put it, suicide is everyone's business.

In recent years, veteran suicide rates rose, then leveled out. Multiple deployments take a toll on troops and increase their risk for suicide when they leave the military.

Chaplain Mark Allison is a VA chaplain and an original member of the Interfaith Roundtable.

Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

"They come back beat up, broken up, ate up, as we tend to call it," Allison says. "There's extra needs, and we want to do the best to serve those who served us."

Troops at risk do not always think of the VA as their first emergency call. They may prefer to talk to their spiritual or religious counselor rather than a mental health counselor.

"We want to reach out to our veterans throughout the state and access these services," Allison says.

VA Suicide Prevention coordinator Michael Koplin met with the Interfaith Roundtable Wednesday. He shared startling statistics and told them how to recognize and deal with potentially suicidal vets in their congregations.

86% of soldiers know someone who was seriously injured or killed. 77% have shot at or directed fire at the enemy.

"The most important thing they can do, early on, is assist that veteran or family member into mental health services so the problem can be addressed," Koplin says.

The VA also offered the clergy tools to help.

"Help them in their skill-building with competent compassion," Allison explains.

In a recent eight-month period, the Salt Lake City VA reports eight veterans committed suicide -- that's down from 10 in the previous eight months. During that same time, nearly 150 veterans attempted suicide.


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Jed Boal


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