BECKLEY, W.Va. — For most Americans, Memorial Day weekend is a time to honor and reflect upon military members who have died in the line of duty.
For many veterans who have returned home from combat it can also mean depression, regret and in some cases suicide. The Beckley VA Medical Center shared this concern with MetroNews affiliate WJLS.
“This is a time particularly when things slow down and individuals have time to think and reflect,” said Director of Mental Health of the Beckley VA Dr. John Kasckow. “If veterans are depressed, it may make depression worse. They may feel more isolated particularly if they don’t have a lot of family around or a lot of friends. Also symptoms of PTSD may come back, too. So this is a time of concern.”
The latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows there were 69 veteran suicides in West Virginia in 2014. Nationally, 7,388 reportedly committed suicide in the same year.
“There’s multiple factors that can lead to this. Often some of the veterans feel guilty about surviving, what we call survivor’s guilt. Which is very common in returning veterans particularly if they have some aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The Beckley VA, like other medical centers, has taken several steps to ensure veterans are receiving the healthcare they need. One advancement is ensuring that veterans are not relying on substances like drugs or alcohol to cope with their emotions. Director of the Beckley VA Stacy Vasquez said they saw a 45% reduction in veterans using opioids in 2017 alone.
“We’re hitting it on all different fronts trying to figure out how to get people to talk with us about this topic. It makes a big difference. We’re also adding a lot of things, like we opened the whole health center. We’re doing yoga and tai-chi. We’re just coming at it full force.”
All VA Medical Centers are equipped with a suicide prevention coordinator to offer veterans the services they need. These mental health services are confidential under federal law.
The center works with veterans who suffer from a wide spectrum of issues including depression, readjustment challenges, sleeping problems and PTSD among others.
“It’s that weekly contact and what we call evidence based psychotherapies that really help a lot. The other key thing is that we have an open access policy so any veteran can come to either primary care or mental health anytime during the day and see somebody that day. So if they want to walk into mental health anytime during the day, we’ll find a provider to see them that day.”
Kasckow and Vasquez stressed the importance of the Veterans Crisis Line. According to the organization’s website, many veterans do not show signs of intent to harm themselves before they do. More subliminal actions can be a sign that a Veteran may need help.
- Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
- Clinical depression: deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating that doesn’t go away
- Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep
- Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time
- Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about
- Frequent and dramatic mood changes
- Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
- Feelings of failure or decreased performance
- Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life
- Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation
- Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there’s no solution to their problems
The service is free, confidential and available 24/7. You can call the line by dialing 1-800-273-8255, then press 1. You can also send a text to 838255 or visit their website.