Friday, January 18 2013, 10:49 AM CST
Southern Oregon's Veteran suicide rate lower than the nation's
By Caitlin Conrad/KTLV.com
WHITE CITY, Ore -- In 2012 the total number of veterans who committed suicide was higher than the number of soldiers who were killed in combat in Afghanistan. The national rate of suicide jumping up 15 percent from what it was in 2011 but locally our numbers are different.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 349 service members in all branches of the US Military committed suicide in 2012, up 15 percent from 301 suicides in the military in 2011. At the Veteran's Affairs office in White City employees say the numbers in Southern Oregon have been consistent over the last few years.
Three people who were using VA services here, committed suicide in 2012, out of the 15,000 veterans the campus serves. Of those 15,00 service men and women an estimated 1,700 of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Benjamin Bryan is the suicide prevention coordinator in white city, he says it's a job that wasn't around a decade ago, "one of the things the national suicide prevention efforts have created are positions like my job, prevention coordinators," he said.
Bryan says the military began expanding it's suicide prevention efforts in 2006. His job is to provide training to the community at large and to meet with service members to make sure they're taking care of their mental health.
The White City VA takes in 50 new service men from Iraq and Afghanistan each week. Bryan says they talk to each of them about their mental health needs. "We're really working on decreasing the stigma about accessing mental healthcare or sharing thoughts of hopelessness," he says stopping the stigma can open up servicemen to the idea of help.
"Part of it is that we're validating someone's experience and then creating a forum where it's okay for them to share that they've been feeling hopeless," Bryan said.
He says the process they use is standardized across the nation and they can't pin point why suicide rates in our region are lower per population than the rest of the county.
What they do know, are the reasons behind why vets here, take their lives.
Iraq Afghanistan Program Manager, Chris Petrone says there are several factors at play. First there are the clinical reasons "post tramatic stress disorder, or traumatic brain injury, or some other physical conditions," he says all of these make the reintegration process harder.
Petrone says another factor, which doesn't always get enough attention, is a veteran's financial situation. He says not having a job can be just as big of an obstacle as an other vets face, "really that stress exacerbates the other issues and there's a sense of people get kind of desperate and not know where to turn," Petrone said.
He says finding employment for vets is key, and while giants like Wal-Mart are doing its part to offer jobs, veterans here have local options too. He says several local mechanic shops offer jobs to vets and Erickson AirCrane has also been very good about hiring former servicemen.
Military psychiatrists expect the national suicide rate to continue to rise, but local employees say they don't have any predictions. Another 1,700 Oregon Guardsman from Jackson County are deploying to Afghanistan in 2014, Bryan says they'll have to see if this affects suicide rates in the future.
The VA has a 24 hour hotline veterans and their families can call, 350 people staff the line providing immediate help. Within a day the hotline will get people connected to someone in their town. If you or someone you know need help don't hesitate to call, 1-800-273-8255.