County panel addresses high veterans suicide numbers
The statistics are sobering.
According to a 2022 federal report on veterans suicide, there were 6,146 such deaths in 2020, an average of 16.8 per day. Adjusting for population age and sex differences, the suicide rate for veterans three years ago was 57.3%, greater than for non-veteran adults.
There is a phrase among veterans, “22 a day,” that refers to the current number of 22 men and women who take their own lives every day.
The importance of numbers in the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report led to a March 12 panel discussion and resource fair with Camden County Commissioner and Gold Star mother Melinda Kane at the Blackwood campus of the county college.
The events were presented by the county board of commissioners and the federal Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and spearheaded by the county’s outreach committee. The discussions included veterans’ stories; safe storage for lethal weapons; and information about 988, the veterans crisis line.
Represented at the resource fair were the Travis Manion Foundation, Moms Demand Action, the county veterans affairs office and others.
“We here at Camden County are committed to fighting the epidemic of veteran suicide through prevention, education and awareness,” said Kane, who serves as the liaison to the VA.
“Bringing an array of resources together for one event is a crucial way that we can support our veterans and offer them a safe space to reach out for the help they may need.”
Panels like the one on veterans suicide have been designed to help effect hard conversations. Karen Flaherty-Oxler, a retired veteran of the Navy and director of the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, spoke about her own difficult talks with vets.
“Talking to veterans about suicide doesn’t prevent suicide,” she noted of the vets’ mental-health issues. “What it does is open conversations that are important, and listening is probably the most important thing we can do.”
Veterans or loved ones of a veteran who needs help can dial 988 for the Crisis and Suicide lifeline. There is also help at (800)-273-TALK.