Dayton VA focuses on suicide prevention

Multiple deployments, a tough economy and a rise in post-traumatic stress have added to an “alarming” increase in suicides in service members and veterans, veterans’ advocates said Wednesday at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The Dayton VA has a message for those who feel at risk of suicide or need mental health treatment: Come in for help, said Dr. Victor Knapp, a psychiatrist and chief of mental health services at the medical center.

“It’s a message we want to send every day, every month,” he said, adding the hospital has emergency walk-in services. “If you come to our door, we can help.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, VA Medical Center Director Glenn A. Costie and Karen Wolfe, VA suicide prevention coordinator, focused on the problem at a press conference Wednesday. It was part of a VA and Department of Defense nationwide suicide prevention initiative in September.

The military has averaged a suicide every day this year, second only to combat, Austria said.

The Army has recorded a 22 percent increase in suicides over the first seven months this year compared to last year, he said. Post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression are root causes.

“These are real soldiers, real families affected by this,” said Austria, a member of the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

Authorities called for enlisting family members to spot potential warning symptoms, such as veterans becoming more withdrawn from family and friends, changing work habits, never smiling and engaging in substance abuse, among other cues, Knapp said.

Other signs might include threats to hurt oneself, feelings of hopelessness, rage or uncontrolled anger, acting reckless or engaging in risky activities and feeling anxious or agitated.

“They are useful warning signs to which we can respond,” he said.

The Dayton VA Medical Center recorded 19 suicide attempts and two deaths within the past year, the center reported.

The VA has cited statistics showing about 20 percent of the more than 30,000 suicides every year in the United States are veterans. About 18 veterans die from suicide each day, and five of those are typically receiving VA health care, the agency said.

VA officials will hand out suicide prevention information to the public Sept. 25 and 27 in the lobby of the Patient Tower, or main hospital on the campus, at 411 W. Third St. in Dayton.

Veterans or those who know a veteran who may need help may call 800-273-TALK (8255) for crisis intervention. Press “1” for veterans. The Dayton VA Suicide Prevention program may be reached at 937-268-6511, ext. 2658.

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