Changing the epidemic of veterans suicide

Be aware of risk factors for someone contemplating ending their life. By Verdie Bowen For The Cordova Times

September is Suicide Awareness Month and we can all play a role in preventing suicide, but many people don’t know what they can do to support the local Veterans, Service member, Guard or Reserve member or their families.

I need to address something about this unspeakable epidemic. Did you know if you are one of the above that you are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average citizen? Today, we lose a veteran to this epidemic every 72 minutes, equaling 20 veterans a day. This number is unacceptable and needs each of us working together in order to see this number reduced and eliminated.

The best way we can reverse this tragic number is through knowledge. You have to be aware of the risk factors for someone contemplating suicide, who you can contact, and what you can do to assist a veteran in need.

Common Risk Factors:

  • Unable to adjust into the community or find work – Not getting along with life-long friends and family members, lacking the desire to enjoy previous hobbies (IE: camping, fishing, hunting) or unable to hold permanent employment.
  • Sleeping Issues – Cannot sleep at night. The veteran has to self-medicate (IE: medications, drugs, alcohol) to consider sleeping.
  • Lack of motivation and energy – Functioning requires drugs, copious amounts of caffeine, nicotine, and other amphetamines.
  • TBI / PTSD – Any traumatic brain injury and post traumatic injuries whether diagnosed or not.
  • Depression – Sad, lethargic, lacking energy to communicate or function normally.
  • Substance Abuse – This is also known as self-medicating. Alcohol is needed to sleep. To awaken requires excessive caffeine, and illegal drugs, or other stimulants. One third of all suicides occurred when the veteran had been drinking or doing drugs.
  • Major Life Stressor – Most suicide attempts in the Veteran community occurred roughly within two weeks after a major life stressor. For instance: loss of a family member, home, marriage, or job. The majority of suicides center around financial or relationship issues.

One of the best ways to help is listen. I know it is difficult sometimes to just listen without providing guidance but in reality, being heard helps lesson the tensions of life. Next, reach out to old friends. A friendly face and just letting them know you are still there could affect their decisions. Remember, this epidemic is not going to get better until we all take an active role. If you are reading this, you are the most important person in this equation.

In the end please reach out either with your friend or for your friend. The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis, and/or their families and friends with qualified, caring VA staff through a toll-free hotline

(1-800-273-8255 (Talk), and press 1).

If you just want to stop by my office for a cup of coffee, that’s OK as well. It’s free and either my staff or I will be more than pleased to speak with you. For directions to the office or if you just want to talk, give us a call. Our phone number is 907-334-0874 or toll-free 1-888-248-3682. I believe together we can change the epidemic of veterans’ suicide.

Verdie Bowen is the veterans affairs administrator in the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs