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Archives Preventing suicide with faith-based assistance

January 8, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing writer

The Veterans Affairs’ suicide prevention coordinator is networking with faith-based organizations to assist veterans and those suffering from depression.

On November 15, 2019, Dr. Joseph Hunter, PhD, LCSW, Veterans Affairs’ suicide prevention coordinator, spoke at the VFW in Plattsburgh. Dr. Hunter, who works at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, said the organization is working on developing a faith-based program locally with the hope of expanding it nationally.

In an interview with the NCC, Dr. Hunter shared that veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than the general population. Since 64% of all gun related deaths are suicides, the VA passes out free gun locks. As suicide is usually an impulsive act, placing a lock on a gun requires people to stop and think before going through with suicide.

When speaking to groups, Hunter invites them to spread the word about the VA’s initiatives to at least 20 people, since 22 veterans die by suicide every day. If 20 people who attend trainings reach out to 20 other people, and they reach out to 10, then 4,000 people will be reached.

The majority of veterans who die by suicide live in rural areas.

“Only about half the veterans who are eligible for VA care are actually getting care,” Dr. Hunter explained. “Many of them would definitely benefit. We know that being service connected, which means if you have an injury while in the military whether mental or physical and getting care for that from the VA is a protective factor. I mean, it’s a buffer against suicide.”

VA programs are helping veterans get connected to free care and receive financial stipends.

“And so for those reasons, my supervisor said that maybe we can do something with faith-based organizations,” Dr. Hunter said. “They are naturally dispersed and nationally helpers and potential helpers with us. The training the VA does is called SAVE.”

Dr. Hunter envisions more of a “train the trainer model.” The VA holds centralized trainings at local veteran Service agencies. They train faith-based organizations in suicide prevention and give them a video to share. They also teach the SUN, SOIL, and WATER strategies. The VA has developed a “wallet card,” which may be cut out to use as a resource to help those who may be suffering from depression and/or considering suicide.

Hunter also does trainings at colleges to share warning signs with students and college Resident Assistants.

The suicide rates for younger veterans, especially women are rising. Faith-based organizations and groups are encouraged to contact the VA for trainings. They provide free resources for attendants to share with their congregations. Contact Hunter for more information.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 34 year olds, and the fourth leading cause of death between 35 to 54 year olds. In 2017, 47,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than double the number of suicides than homicides. New York suicide rates have increased by nearly 30%, almost as high as the national rise, between 1999 and 2016.

According to the study “Suicide in NY: Which counties have the highest and lowest rates,” Essex, Hamilton, and Lewis counties have some of the highest suicide rates in the state.

For help and/or resources please contact:
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-273-8255. (Press 1 for Veterans or service members. The crisis line also has a text option: 838255

• The National Catholic Partnership of Disability also has a Council on Mental Illness and resources for those who are suffering at: https://ncpd.org/

• Dr. Joseph Hunter at 518-626-5329, Veterans Affairs’ suicide prevention coordinator

Maketheconnection.net has powerful videos for Veterans and their families. Veterans tell their stories about how they recovered from PTSD, drug addiction, etc.

• The VA.gov website has a place to chat with someone, one-on-one, and to do a survey for people who may be suffering from PTSD and depression.

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