VA, defense press programs to help prevent veteran suicides

Karen Tang, Correspondent

WASHINGTON — He walked out of the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System in Baltimore frustrated and desperate.

The veteran was about to take his life, recalled Nikole Jones, the suicide prevention coordinator for the center.

“It was a very scary moment,” Jones said.

The VA police set out to look for the veteran and found him near the Amtrak tracks, Jones said.

Thankfully, the outcome was positive.

But this is just one incident of many that Jones has witnessed.

September is Suicide Prevention Month and Jones is bringing suicide awareness to local VA facilities around Maryland by providing training to the staff on prevention and safety planning by teaching them warning signs and risk factors of a veteran thinking about committing suicide. It’s part of a nationwide effort by the Departments of Veteran Affairs and Defense to boost awareness of veterans at risk of suicide.

It is estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States, according to federal figures.

The VA health center’s goal is to understand why veterans feel the way they feel, Jones said.

“We do a lot of compassionate listening,” Jones said. “We help them see some of the positive things that they may not be looking at to instill some hope.”

There are a variety of factors that can make veterans prone to suicide, Jones said.

An increased risk of suicide is more likely when a veteran has feelings of hopelessness, a sense of isolation, negative stress, fears of social encounters, suicidal fantasies, dissatisfaction with life, insomnia, fatigue and loss of appetite, according to guidelines from the VA and Department of Defense.

“I tell people it isn’t a checklist,” Jones said. “Sometimes two risk factors are enough for one person. The next person may need a list of 10 risk factors.”

In addition to the health center promoting Suicide Prevention Month, the DOD is working in collaboration with the VA to promote “The Power of 1” campaign.

The message? One person can make an impact on someone’s life.

“It’s about the little things that can make a difference,” Jones said.

“One small act of kindness … can help save someone.”

But if veterans are in need of immediate help, Jones encourages them to use the Veterans Crisis Line that is available 24/7. Veterans and their friends and families can call 1-800-273-8255.

A confidential phone service for veterans and family members, the line offers assistance and help for those facing serious challenges or those who may be in a suicidal crisis. The organization has responded to more than 1.86 million calls and has saved more than 50,000 lives since it began in 2007, according to crisis line’s website.

Veterans’ lives matter, Jones said.

“They provided these freedoms,” Jones said. “It’s our turn to return the favor.”

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