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VA Addresses Increase In Suicide Among Veterans

Aired 9/3/12 on KPBS News.

Suicides among San Diego veterans are up this year. The VA takes steps to keep up with the growing problem.

The U.S. Department Of Veteran Affairs in San Diego reports that 126 local veterans attempted suicide so far this year; 22 succeeded.

That number is significantly higher than at this time last year.

The mental health department at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System added 32 new staff members this summer to process cases quicker and help veterans deal with stressful issues that could contribute to suicide.

Dawn Miller is one of three suicide prevention coordinators at the VA. She said there are often warning signs before a suicide attempt that can include:

  • Talking about death or dying.
  • Participating in self destructive behaviors.
  • Feeling of hopelessness.
  • Mood swings.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Rage or anger
  • Risky or impulsive behavior.
  • Increase in drug and/or alcohol use.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.

Miller said, if you suspect someone you know is suicidal, talk to them. Listen without judgment. And encourage them to seek help.

“Try to get them to open up and not isolate," she said.

The VA has identified more than 100 veterans who are currently at high risk for suicide at the San Diego facility, Miller said.

“It’s the being ambivalent about whether you want to live or die which is really the painful time. It’s almost, kind of, a relief once you’ve decided, 'OK, I’m going to go ahead and end my life.' You’ve crossed that threshold. So it’s really when they’re at that ambivalent stage that we try to intervene as much as we possibly can", she said.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call 800-273-8255. Press “1” for veteran.

Or call the county crisis line at 888-724-7240.

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