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El Paso County Suicide Prevention Summit reveals cases among veterans dropped in 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- During a Suicide Prevention Summit for El Paso County, officials announced veteran suicides were down by nearly 10% in 2022 from the previous year.

According to the El Paso County Coroner's Office, 2021 was a particularly troubling year when it came to veteran suicides. During the Suicide Prevention Summit, El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly reported of the 176 cases from 2021, 30% had a military connection. That was a 10% increase from 2020.

Dr. Kelly's research also showed that most people who take their lives, including veterans, don't suffer from severe depression but came across a sudden dramatic event.

"Sudden breakup with a spouse, they get arrested for a DUI, they lose their job, they have a domestic violence incident, and that sort of inciting event happens, and then that spirals them almost immediately into a suicidal act," explained Dr. Kelly.

In 2022, Dr. Kelly said veterans made up only 21% of the total suicide cases.

The county pointed toward recent efforts that are making a difference to military members and veterans struggling with mental health.

One of those efforts is Next Chapter, an organization that aims to address veteran suicide and give veterans a new way to receive help.

"Makes me feel good that the direction is starting to change," said Damian McCabe with Next Chapter. He's a veteran himself and currently the Director of Behavioral Health - Military and Veteran Services at UCHealth.

McCabe said overcoming the stigma of talking about mental health and creating a better entry point for those looking for help are both having an impact.

Still, McCabe said that this is only the beginning.

"Ultimately, do we want that number to be down around the national average and lower?  Absolutely.  We'd like it to be zero.  We know it's going to take a while to get there," said McCabe.

Dr. Kelly encourages not just veterans, but their families and friends, to take action when they experience or witness a crisis.

"When someone is experiencing this, someone you care about, it's on you to reach out to them, right, and make sure that they're getting the help that they need.  And as individuals, it's also on us to know when we are going through those times that this is when we need to reach out for help as well," said Dr. Kelly.

KRDO partnered with Next Chapter to promote the program and bring awareness of the help out there.

Any veteran going through a crisis, or who knows someone that is, can reach out to Next Chapter at 1-888-719-VETS. People can also go to the Next Chapter website to request all types of services from counseling to financial assistance to job placement.

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