Alarming stats from the USO show suicide rates among active military are at an all-time high since the group started keeping records after 9/11. Discussions around this data come as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the creation of an independent panel to review suicide prevention programs and suggest improvements.
Men and women of the armed forces fight battles to protect our freedom. But sometimes, their biggest battles are the ones they face when they return home. Jacksonville City Councilman Nick Howland is executive director of The Fire Watch, which aims to prevent veteran suicide through connectedness.
“We lose over 6,000 US military veterans to suicide each year,” Howland said. “And in context, we’re losing veterans at a rate of one and a half to two times higher than civilians.”
The group has served more than 1.5 million veterans in 67 counties. According to its website, it has 1,848 Watch Standers. Watch Standers are individuals trained to know the warning signs, which Howland said aren’t that different from what is observed in civilians. The goal is to identify the issue and act quickly.
“It could be undiagnosed or diagnosed mental illness, it could be marital or other relationship issues, it could be financial distress,” Howland said. “So, for us, the process of healing begins with addressing those early symptoms.”
Howland said one of the highest risk groups is veterans between 18 and 34 years old.
“That, also, is the age group getting out of the military most every day,” Howland said. “So that means we have a problem now that’s only going to get bigger if we don’t address it now.”
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