VA deals with PTSD and Suicide Rates among Veterans

By Laurie Bernstein - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - With 82 reported suicides in the Army this year, 17 alone in May, post traumatic stress disorder is a hot topic.

The Army is tackling the problem head on, but prevention and outreach are also extending into the VA system.

According to the numbers, 15-20% of veterans are diagnosed for PTSD, and now, mental health experts are targeting them for treatment.

It all started in 2007, with the death of 22-year-old veteran Joshua Omvig.

He shot himself in the head after returning home from Iraq and getting out of the Army.

"He didn't seek help because he wanted to be a police officer, and there was that stigma. After his death, his parents fought to make it law that all veterans returning home from war get a mental health clearance," said Beverly Benson, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Tuskeegee VA Hospital.

Suicide Prevention Coordinators like Benson were brought into every VA hospital, to make sure help was there for any veteran who needed it.

A massive media campaign including television PSA's has been established.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline was also set-up, where a veteran can call anytime they are in need.

"There is more awareness. These veterans know if they are having nightmares or flashbacks that it's PTSD. There is more information than in earlier wars," said Karen Boswell, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator.

Even though independent mental health groups like NAMI have cited cases of veterans being put on hold when calling the hotline, these VA employees say the system works.

"We've had several veterans we did rescues for. They were at a low point, feeling suicidal, and were able to get treatment. They always talked about what a difference it made in their lives," said Boswell.

Coordinators say the best way to get in contact with a mental health professional is to call the suicide hotline.

That number is 1-800-273-TALK.

You can always call the VA hospital directly at 334-727-0550.