Connecting veterans with each other, their loved ones or their communities, and eliminating the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness are keys to prevention, he said.
We spoke to a Bangor veteran who struggled with thoughts of suicide about how he turned his life around.
Travis Davis is a retired Army Corporal who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with 42 other soldiers. “Almost fifty percent of our guys got hurt or didn't make it home,” Davis said Wednesday, sitting inside a local bakery.
Davis was shot twice in the chest, he was saved by his body armor, and even though he shot blindly, the person who was shooting at him died. He came home with Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome and suffered from survivor's guilt. For a time, he was suicidal.
“It was very difficult for me at first,” said Davis, who moved to Maine from Erie, Illinois a few years ago. “I felt alone."
He went to the VA in Maine for help and met a Hermon veteran who connected him with K9s for Warriors, which trains shelter dogs to become service dogs. Davis soon met his own service dog, Coleman. “This dog has saved my life,” Davis said.
Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham said many steps have been taken to educate soldiers and airmen about suicide prevention, but more can be done. “We know one suicide is too many and we will keep working to educate our folks and provide the resources to eliminate it,” said Farnham, who is Maine National Guard's adjutant general.
An estimated 20 veterans a day nationwide commit suicide, and most are not enrolled in any veterans programs. Farnham believes the numbers would drop if more veterans reached out for the services they earned in uniform.
“I think one of the biggest hurdles is the stigma associated with mental health,” Farnham said.
That is why a big push has been made in recent years to educate fellow soldiers, family, and friends about warning signs and how to intervene.
The warrior culture is one reason why those in the military have a hard time asking for help, but it also can help a person who is struggling, said Greg Marley, of NAMI Maine. “It may be hard for you to reach out, but what if it was a buddy of yours,” Marley said. “What if it was somebody else you served with and they were struggling with these feelings.”
Each arm of the military and the VA have put new suicide prevention initiatives in place in recent years, are there are a ton of other programs, such as K9s for Warriors.
“I can't imagine my life without him,” Davis said of his dog.
Veterans can reach the Military Crisis Line by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1. They can also send a text message to 838255.