Veteran suicide risk in the spotlight

The veteran suicide rate has jumped more than 6% between 2005 and 2016.
9:14 | 05/17/19

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Transcript for Veteran suicide risk in the spotlight
Shifting gears now two this month of mental awareness. And mental health this shot we're shining the spotlight today and the issue of veteran suicides which of reached. A staggering. Level in this country think about this the number of veterans in the United States. Who have lost their lives to suicide in the past year around 6000. Now surpasses the total number Americans killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan Iraq and Syria. It's a staggering number ABC's chief medical correspondent doctor Jan Ashton has been covering this issue she recently spoke with a Vietnam veteran. Whose grandson died of suits. The U. Suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. When you hear about other veterans suffering. What goes through your mind. Well it Hirsch. I have I have posttraumatic stress. And Mike Kelley explained picked him one time it's likened to me it's like a piece of psychic shrapnel. Stuck in your brain and it's not it's never coming out. And if it's fair that it makes me very sad. To hear that these people look struggle. What do you wish our country. Knew about veterans. And mental illness in particular. You know that's a good question but. I wish everybody would have to walk and a veteran shoes. I don't think you have a lot of people walking who exactly could you get less than 1% that do. And doctor Jane Ashton joins us now from New York doctor Jan great to see you hang on you have had firsthand experience with suicide as well we'll talk about that coming up a want to ask you about this issue veteran suicide that you've been looking into it is simply. Stunning than these number 6000 how bad is it right now. It's an epidemic it's part of the suicide epidemic that we're facing in this country. And the numbers that are affecting veterans are particularly high risk group. You know they're in in the last year alone there were 260. Suicide attempts on VA properties in this country alone. And a large part of it has to do with untreated mental illness. Like post traumatic stress disorder the highest risk facing these veterans for suicide is in the first year after they'd seen active duty. And in raiding my buck life after suicide I spoke. To Kimbrough go whose husband and a marine died of suicide and she now runs the taps organization the tragedy assistance. Program for survivors. In the military they have provided. Post traumatic care for over 101000. Military families and they really are focusing on the healing. That affects the families of someone who loses a loved one to suicide and their premise which I think is amazing. Is post traumatic growth. So we've all heard of PT SD this is the other arm other that and through this taps program in the military. That you can actually experienced post traumatic growth so they're doing some really incredible things. Yeah it's neat it's so badly especially for survivors families the whole community really needs to be talking about gas issue were also joined here. By Terry two kneeling and she's at the Rand Corp. a mental health expert and and it is studied specialized. In a veteran suicide testified a couple of suitable for congress in this Terry great to have you come in. You really could have called this a national security problem as well tolls about why you see is that. As you heard since. I isn't national public health crisis potentially contacting. Its right now and far batter and it's a really serious challenge and a complex issue that needs to be addressed. He's the same men and women who we sought to protect went better body armor and proof technology. And policies that really helped improve injury survive ability. Now that they take the uniform off we ready to make sure that we have the systems in place to address the risks and needs that they may face so that we can prevent suicide. And doctors and what what is couldn't even the most urgent need that the government and health care service providers can give to these veterans what what needs to be done right now. You know they're entitled to the best medical care it in in the country the best we have to kid and that includes mental health. You know in general in Madison today we tends not to take things as seriously if we can't see them. So things that go on above the neck are given less priority then things like heart disease or cancer unfortunately and we need to change that. And by the way and as a woman's health specialist we need to provide better medical care for our female veterans. As well which includes more gynecologists in VA hospitals which is is a severe problem right now so. In this month mental health awareness month. We need to really remember. That it's a check up from the neck up and we need to take care of people's spirits and their brains and their minds as well as the rest of their body. The health care community also scrambling to hire and train more mental health experts as well to meet that need. You know Terry it we were talking earlier about some of the ways we can combat this and address a problem sounds like from your research access to firearms. Particularly among veterans is a key area that. That the government policy makers can zero in. We know that reducing access to lethal means it works and preventing suicides and for veterans that means we need to seriously address the risk that guns pose. And so we need to create enact and study new policies that will reduce access to firearms for those their rest. Among the suicide deaths 70%. And the past year of where the through the results of a firearm and so we must A drafts. That's the policies act worked to promote firearm safety health care professionals must be able to talk. About firearms safety it went there patients including batter and. In gent talk talk a little bit about what survivors family members your among them. What you learned that your your new book is out like after suicide we should we show the current rate spent the past week pretty much traveling the country talking to people about this issue that doesn't get a lot of attention yeah what can all of us learn in in in bringing to the table in trying to help combat this ourselves. Well you know a first of all some numbers we know 47000. Americans died by suicide in 2017. And it's estimated that for every death by suicide. They're a 135. People who are directly affected by that death. That's over six million people a year and to put just the deaths into context. That is more people than die of breast cancer every year and it's up about the same number. Of people who died at the peak of the aids epidemic so this is something that we need to. Two you know fill the boat all hands on deck and we need to provide some major care for those survivors of which I and my children. Are among them and that means the potential for post traumatic growth. And and healing after this really tragic type of trauma and loss. And Terry when you were on Capitol Hill last week what was the reception from members of congress did you get the sense that there's actually going to be some momentum around veteran suicides do they see. The problem then Jen just laid out. I do think they see it out we had three adhering to gates and as soon as them not hearing veteran suicide we have another one scheduled for next week and even more I think coming this summer. So I think they understand that there's a problem and they're looking toward solutions. My testimony where they tried to outline what else we can you be on the efforts that are are you being undertaken by idea DN PA and as well as and I NH and stamps. Who are on the front lines of trying to really create system level change but we really need to create healthier environments. We need to ensure as doctor ration sad that everyone has access to high quality metal house services in America. This is so concerning the numbers are going up they've been aware of it for years have been talking about it for years maybe not to the degree that we bit we have been and in recent months but this is this is really troubling. We've been talking about it for ten years we've had multiple task forces many reports new SaaS strategies released. Yet the numbers still climb and say we need to be mark grass that. And we should say I doctor Jens new book like after suicide is a great resource for anybody. A dealing with this issue in their lives or their families be sure to check that out just has a podcasts and should. A remind everybody that is concerned about suicide there is a national suicide prevention hotline. Our resources available 24/7. For anybody that your concerned about your having issues contemplating it's 180273. Talk. 1802738255. And Anderson the even have some specially trained staff for military families and veterans as well. Our thanks to doctors and ashen or thinks you Terry thank you so much for coming in.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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