County offers mental health services to returning vets

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 06:19 PM

Last year, 349 active-duty servicemen committed suicide, an increase in numbers and a new record. 

The Pentagon began tracking suicides closely in 2001. This year's number exceeds the number of Americans who died in Afghanistan last year, according to The Associated Press. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has referred to suicides as an epidemic. 

The numbers are tentative as the defense department completes their pathology reports on each case. 

David Rudd, a military suicide researcher and dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, said he sees two main categories of troops who are committing suicide at an accelerating pace: Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress or substance abuse, and those who have not gone to war but face troubled personal relationships, money problems or legal woes.

Michelle Marcano, director of the Union County Veterans Services, said there are many resources available for veterans having trouble readjusting. 

They refer people to the Veterans Administration healthcare system and they have a lot of different programs in place, Marcano said. 

There is a hotline number, help on the website, a number people can text and phone applications to help people in need. 

"It's actually very nice because they're really trying to address the veterans that are coming back and the technology they're using now," Marcano said. 

No one has come into her office seeking help, however, they do put a sticker with the hotline number on their desks in case anyone wants help but does not want to ask. 

"Of course, we don't see all veterans," Marcano said. "Obviously we're not trained to handle that because it's a medical issue and a health issue so we refer out." 

Joe Davis, spokesman for the Washington office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said war veterans have faced difficulty adjusting to the less intense environment of their home bases. Others struggle with leaving the military in search of work in a tight civilian job market.

"It's difficult to come back from a war footing to garrison life," he said, where more mundane problems intrude on troops who had been focused almost entirely on their war mission.

John Brewer, president of the Veterans Council in Union County, said that often being around other veterans is a good therapy for them. 

"What they do is extremely stressful," Brewer said. "Most Americans don't realize the stress they've gone through and what they've gone through." 

Brewer knows an Iraqi veteran who is currently being treated in Salisbury for battle fatigue. According to the veteran, the VA does an excellent job of helping soldiers with the trauma of war, whether it be physical or mental, Brewer said. 

There are also veterans on the Veterans Council who are extremely interested in helping people, Brewer said. 

"The other thing that every one of these guys tell me is there's no better therapy than being around these soldiers in a non-combative setting," Brewer said. 

Others have told Brewer that sometimes they feel under-appreciated for their service. 

"I'm not an expert on this stuff, but that's what they're looking for is appreciation and thank you for what they've done," Brewer said. "I don't know why they commit suicide, I really don't. I wish I did." 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, then press 1. You can also text 828255.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.