Together With Hill Country Veterans has a simple mission to alleviate a complicated problem — veterans taking their own lives.
Almost every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans take their own lives across Texas and the United States. It’s a perplexing problem that the VA and the military have started addressing only recently.
In 2022, the VA published a comprehensive study of two decades of veteran suicides and presented an action plan that required a more profound commitment to solve the problem better.
Visit the Hill Country Veterans Center for more information: https://hill-country-veterans-center.business.site/?utm_source=gmb&utm_medium=referral
“Our work involves a whole of government and whole of nation approach as Veteran suicide is a complex problem that cannot be addressed through a singular solution, nor can it only be addressed by VA or clinical intervention alone,” The VA report said. “Our data this year again confirms the need for including community prevention, alongside clinical interventions, in our public health approach.”
Even in a community like Kerr County, with a large VA medical center, there needs to be a community commitment, and that’s just one of the roles Together With Hill Country Veterans comes in to help. Kathy Turner, a member of the nonprofit group, was a guest on Wednesday’s edition of The Lead Live to discuss the group’s work across the region.
“We humans tend to be cautious where there are so many myths where afraid that that will ask the question about suicide and that will plant some seed in their mind that wasn’t there before which is a total myth right and people are either thinking about ending their life or they’re not,” Turner said. “And so that that fear of saying the wrong thing leads many of us to keep our mouth shut and not say anything at all.”
To alleviate that fear, TWHCV is planning a series of classes to help identify those gaps and provide participants with the essential tools to help. It’s a similar approach the MHDD, a 19-county regional mental health authority based in Kerrville, takes with its mental health first aid training.
“In this training class, what we teach regular everyday folks to do is to recognize the symptoms of a mood disorder,” Turner said. “To recognize, pay attention, really listen and then find the courage to ask the question, which is incredibly difficult for most people.”
Turner said the first class is Feb. 9 at the Hunt Volunteer Fire Department, with specific details to be announced.
It’s the kind of training that is being encouraged by the VA, because their study found that veterans who did not receive care from the VA were more likely to take their own lives. However, getting them to get that care is a challenge.
“The vast majority of veterans who died by suicide in 2020 were not recent VHA users (60.3%) and community approaches must be utilized to reach all veterans, not just those within the VA system,” the VA reports said. “Further, mental health solutions alone will not address veteran suicide, particularly with 42.0% of Recent Veteran VHA Users who died from suicide in 2020 not having a documented VHA mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis.”
In its campaign, the VA recognizes the importance of partnering with Together with Veterans organizations in rural settings.
“Establishing these community partnerships with the American Legion, with the VFW, with different mental health organizations and community mental health organizations,” Turner said. “We’re really trying to expand as much as we can outside of Kerr County. That’s what we’re looking for is to build partnerships so that we can provide some expertise when it’s specifically related to Veterans, but that we can also look for opportunities.”
And the opportunities to help turn the tide remain significant. In 2020, more than 500 veterans in Texas claimed their lives — the rate was higher than the national and state averages for the civilian population. In Texas, nearly 15% of suicides were veterans.
It’s still a big hurdle, but Turner is optimistic.