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January 25, 2013 06:06 PM

Preventing Suicides Among Veterans

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Suicides are on the rise in the US military. Now the VA is doing its best to save veterans.

Pat Sheppard knows all about the diverse expectations and issues veterans go through. He served in the Marine Corps in the 1960s.

"I was just angry. I was angry because everybody in my platoon went to Vietnam," Sheppard said.

Instead of going to Vietnam, Sheppard was assigned to working in a communications center in North Carolina.

"When I got out, it was hard for me to adjust in that my friends had all gone to Vietnam and I didn't. That always bothered me and that still bothers me," Sheppard said.

Other veterans have dealt with issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression or suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, suicides are becoming more common in the U.S. Military. There were around 350 last year. That's more than the number of American combat deaths in Afghanistan last year.

"Actually for veterans who are involved in VA care, the numbers have gone down in the neighborhood of about 20 to 30 percent," VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator Janell Christenson said.  "The biggest thing we try to do is decrease the stigma because many veterans feel that they don't want to ask for help," Christenson said.

If a veteran does not ask for help, some of the warning signs include poor concentration, an increase in drinking or drug use, relationship problems or anxiety.

"When people feel so nervous that they feel like they're jumping out of their skin," Christenson said.

As a veteran, Sheppard emphasizes the importance of seeking help. He knows first-hand the issues veterans can deal with and how difficult it is to seek help.

"It's a really hard thing. It's like defeat. None of us like to have a problem we like to solve ourselves," Sheppard said.

To get help, veterans and their families can call the VA's Veteran's Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and then press one.

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