Veterans Fight Their Way Back As VA Tries To Reach More Soldiers With Invisible Wounds
SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – This National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, alarming new data about military veterans shows at least 13% of all suicides in Utah are veterans, according to a report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association.
KSL TV did some digging to find out what’s being done to prevent them.
Ryan Poland comes from a long line of soldiers.
“At least six generations direct line-army,” said Poland, who lives in South Jordan.
After returning from Iraq, an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, took him by surprise.
“I look over and my eight-month pregnant wife is sobbing out of control, and there’s a police officer at my window,” he said. “I’m literally parked in someone’s driveway, and I have no idea who they were or how I got there.”
While he doesn’t remember it, Poland fled police after illegally passing a slower driver.
It was a wake-up call, and Ryan isn’t alone
“This is a cloth map, and we used this quite a bit because you could just shove it in your pocket,” said Bryan Catherman, a pastor with Redeeming Life Church, while standing by a table full of memorabilia from his time in the service. “I was in Anbar primarily.”
He has invisible wounds as well.
“It got pretty bad,” Catherman said. “At the high point, I think I was really suicidal. Getting up and going, ‘How am I going to survive today?’”
The VA Salt Lake City is working hard to reach veterans like Poland and Catherman.
“This is an epidemic,” said Scott Hill, Ph.D. and chief of mental health services for the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.
Suicide prevention was the focus of the VA’s recent Mental Health Summit. They worked on increasing veterans’ access to mental healthcare, specifically in rural areas, through telemedicine.
“They can have prescriptions, they can also do psychotherapy, we can do check-in visits and cognitive evaluations,” Hill said. “We can do this literally anywhere that there is sufficient bandwidth to get a picture on a phone.”
Hill said it’s part of “Getting to Zero,” a national VA initiative to turn the tide on veteran suicide.
Here in Utah, they’re also starting a peer-supported Hope Squad, similar to ones in Utah schools. Veterans will help depressed or suicidal service members through a crisis.
“There really is no wrong door; any hospital can connect you to the VA as well,” said Rebecca Mabe, associate chief of mental health programs for the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center. “There’s a new program that we are working within our region on providing gun safety, training, and practical gun locks, to our families and our veterans.”
The VA also now helps vets work through red tape to get treatment. Veterans can also receive immediate access to a crisis team at the hospital, or help at a PTSD walk-in clinic.
“I carried this little cross with me in my pocket,” said Catherman, who noted what helped him most was his support network. “I had a counselor at the VA. I had a chaplain at the VA. I had some other friends that were veterans.”
Poland also got therapy through the VA.
Both he and Catherman agree: “It never really goes away. Recovery is a process,” Poland said.
Staying on top of mental health is a lifetime tour of duty.
Veterans who are feeling suicidal are urged to call the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is available 24/7.
Resources For Veterans
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention
- National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide
- Make the Connection (Support for veterans, active duty, family and friends)
- Make the Connection: Stories of Connection
- Suicide Prevention: A Guide for Military and Veteran Families
- Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255)
Additional Suicide Prevention Resources
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
- Trevor project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition: utahsuicideprevention.org/
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention -Utah Chapter afsp.org/chapter/afsp-utah/
- National Alliance on Mental Illness-Utah Chapter www.namiut.org/