BECKLEY, WV (WVNS)– Veteran suicide rates are one of the highest in the country. Suicide rates among those who have served are disproportionately higher than all other death by suicide demographics.
It’s a war on domestic soil, battling mental health among veterans and those who have served both at home and abroad.
“One of the first things I think that it’s important to acknowledge, is that we are so very grateful for veterans and our military for signing on that line and being willing to die or fight for their country,” Suicide Prevention Advocate, Michelle Toman said.
According to the VA, veteran suicide rates were 1.5 times higher than their civilian counterparts in 2019. There were 6,000 or more deaths by suicide per year from 2008-2017, averaging about 20 per day.
Michelle Toman and Barri Faucett are suicide prevention experts in West Virginia. They work with veterans in distress on a daily basis.
“When you think about veterans and military service personnel, you also think about fitness and being able to perform at your best all the time,” Faucett said. “At least the expectation is to do so. So, it’s not as favorable to have mental health conditions at any time because the expectations to achieve are so high.”
Faucett and Toman said the “soldier first” mentality makes it difficult for veterans to raise their hands and ask for help.
“It is a life or death situation, and they are trained for life or death situations but in a different sense,” Toman added. “Not in regards to brains and mental health. We just have to do better, opening a door, making sure that we’re having safe and meaningful and ultimately honest conversations when it comes to suicide.”
Both Faucett and Toman said that while the conversation around veteran mental health has made significant progress over the years, there’s still a long way to go.
“I do know that in the community there is a conscious effort to tailor services to military service members and veterans as well,” Faucett said. “We’re not where we need to be yet, however.”
The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1- 800-273-8255 (TALK) and there is the option to press one if you are a veteran.