Veteran suicide rate decreases; first time in 20 years

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 9:51 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report, there were 399 fewer suicides in 2019 than in 2018.

The numbers follow a trend of decreasing suicide rates across the nation as the most recent numbers show a 7.2 percent decline.

Wisconsin is seeing a similar pattern, but advocates say there’s still more work to be done.

“We want to continue to put [the] effort in this direction to get the number down to zero,” Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Wausau VA, Todd Stage said.

Stage is also a combat veteran himself. Now he’s using all of this to share his story with other veterans.

“I got recruited right out of coming out of deployment at one of our mental health screens...I got a lot out of being in the military and being a veteran, it helps, and it’s really nice to make that connection and help them,” he explained.

Stage said he’s grown to see many changes at the VA’s Office in the last 10 years.

“That overall commitment to reducing suicide and willing to try new things that’s led to the numbers going in the right direction.”

In recent years, peer support work, where more combat veterans share their stories, has helped bring inspiration to others.

“Hope is very important...if you look back at our experiences back in combat, at the time we would’ve told you those were the hard days...” Stage said.

But, he explained those hard days come as a shock later. “When you come back, it’s not all suddenly easy.”

That’s partly because of the stigma that surrounds getting help and therapy.

“The military is based [on] trying to get the mission done, alright you got to suck it up, you got to be tough, which is good for winning wars. The problem is you get the message drained into you and it’s hard asking for help,” Stage explained.

He said the military and the VA’s Office have been working to change that message.

“It might be an ER doctor, you know, and if they happen to know that person is a vet and that they’re struggling they need to have some contacts to give them.”

The goal is to bring veterans, their VA Offices and their communities closer together, to help get numbers down to zero.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, but we do want to help every veteran that’s out there,” Stage said.

The Wausau VA is also expanding to the former Shopko building in Wausau.

Leaders said the expansion will help them reach more people and offer services closer to home. It’s expected to open early next year.

If you or someone you know is looking for help, call the Veterans crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. You can also click here to find more resources for help.

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