COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Reducing the number of veteran suicides in El Paso County is the goal of a new pilot program created and funded by Colorado state lawmakers in 2021.
It is called Next Chapter.
“The name ‘Next Chapter’ implies that there’s more to be done,” says Damian McCabe.
McCabe, an army veteran himself, is the Director of Behavioral Health and Military Affairs at UCHealth and helped to establish the Next Chapter program.
The campaign’s first commercial is already airing, featuring a veteran and his service dog.
McCabe is the narrator, and everything from the military photos and memorabilia to the veteran in the chair is real.
That authenticity is critical, according to McCabe, which is why when someone calls the next chapter hotline, they will speak with someone just like themselves.
"There will be a very familiar ear and a very familiar voice when they reach out and ask for services,” he explained.
Lawmakers gave the program 2.5 million dollars to get started, with more available if it is successful.
El Paso County was selected as the testing ground due to its high number of veteran or active duty suicides.
The coroner's office reported 52 in 2021, which accounted for 30 percent of all suicides.
It was only 20 percent the previous year.
Rather than PTSD from their time in combat, McCabe says a high number of those cases involved veterans who were going through some sort of personal crisis that came about after their service.
“Employment, relationship problems, struggles with finances, maybe involvement with the criminal justice system,” says McCabe.
It's those struggles that Next Chapter aims to address before it's too late, by finding the best resources to deal with the particular challenge that a veteran is experiencing.
"For me, it's personal when one of our veterans dies, or when one of our active duty members dies by suicide,” says McCabe, “but it's going to be much more powerful, and personal when this community is able to wrap around and change the rate of incidents of suicide of veterans in this community."
Over the next few months, KRDO will air additional stories about individuals who came forward before it’s too late, and about the many services provided to veterans free of charge by UCHealth, Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center, and others.
For anyone that might be compelled to reach out for help with a crisis, the number to call Next Chapter is 1-888-719-VETS.
The website can be found here.