Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 6, 2013

Military scrambles to stop suicides


“Over the past few years, the Department of Defense has instituted a series of programs and services geared towards preventing military suicides, but a recent study showed inconsistencies among the services in the programs provided,” said Tsongas. “Like the critical matter of sexual assault in the military, suicides are reflective of a military culture that is in need of change. Programs and services must be instituted in addition to working to show that seeking help is not a weakness and working to reduce the stigma of asking for help.”

Tom Hargreaves, director of veterans services for the city of Methuen, said his office tries to make first contact with returning members of the military. It sends welcome home letters and invites recent veterans to visit. But because of privacy laws, the office is not always notified when servicemen and women return home.

Hargreaves' office and others like it throughout Massachusetts provide information about services available to veterans for education, job searches, state and federal benefits, and health care. Hargreaves said his office recommends veterans sign up for VA health care, provided by the federal government to all veterans and service members.

Francisco Urena, commissioner of veterans services in Boston, said his staff performs a series of assessments on each veteran who visits the office. "Not in an invasive way," he said, "but in a conversational way, to see how their family welfare is, how they are doing."

Oftentimes, returning service members won't ask for help themselves.

In a 2008 study, researchers with the Rand Corp. found barely more than half of veterans exhibiting symptoms of major depression or post traumatic stress disorder had sought help from a physician or mental health provider in the previous year.

Campbell said the stigma associated with acknowledging the need for treatment and seeking it prevents many service members from getting help that could save their lives.

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