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VA: Ordinary people can — and should — help fight veteran suicide

Posted at 12:07 AM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 19:42:23-05

CINCINNATI -- The mindset instilled in military men and women during their service -- one that values stoicism, self-abnegation and suppressing the urge to complain -- can poison their mental health when they return to civilian life, according to Dr. Keita Franklin.

She should know.

As the national director of suicide prevention for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Franklin works to combat a silent epidemic of suicide among veterans. She needs the help of ordinary people to do it.

"There's something we can all do to prevent veteran suicide," she said.

That's also the message of the VA's "Be There" campaign, which encourages veterans' friends, family and neighbors to pay attention to their mental health and become sources of emotional support.

Franklin said such support doesn't have to start in a moment of extreme crisis -- something as small as inviting a veteran in one's community for a cup of coffee can make a significant difference in their life.

"It's important for people that live in communities across the nation to know how many veterans live in their community," she said. "It's everyday, simple acts that really matter and make a veteran feel that they fit in their community and that they belong."

Educating the public is especially important given the rising rate of suicide among veterans between the ages of 18 and 34, she added. 

Jesse Neack, a veteran whose suicide prevention organization 22 Until None focuses on connecting his comrades-in-arms with resources, said it's also important to make sure veterans know vulnerability is OK.

"That's one thing we are missing in the veteran community: Talking about your emotions, feeling emotions, talking about the problems you're feeling," he said. "That's something we really need to do, is remove that stigma around mental health."