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El Paso County Coroner reports fewer veteran suicides in 2022

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) - It was data from the El Paso County Coroner's Office that helped secure funding from the state for the Next Chapter program in 2022. 

A year later, updated data shows the numbers are trending in the right direction. 

Last year in El Paso County, 1 in 4 people who took their own lives had served or were actively serving in the military. 

While 25% might seem high, the 2022 percentage is actually five percent lower than in 2021. 

“We did see a decrease last year,” said El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly confirmed after a meeting with other suicide prevention and behavioral health leaders last week. 

Not only does Kelly’s office look into the causes of death in more than a thousand cases every year, and share the findings with area leaders, he digs into the trends behind the numbers to find out what could be contributing factors or common denominators. 

Those factors include drugs, the use of firearms, or military service.

The coroner's office looks into numerous factors connected to both suicides and homicides in El Paso County.

“It's a brutally honest self-reflection on who we are, what we are, and what we need to do better,” he explained. 

His latest annual report appears to show the work of so many veteran groups here is paying off. 

“Something in the last year has made a difference,” says Damian McCabe, the Director of Behavioral Health and Military Affairs at UCHealth and one of the directors of the Next Chapter program. 

He says it's hard to know whether his specific program is the reason for the difference, but he believes the overall conversation surrounding veteran suicide is becoming louder. 

"From our perspective, the more we increase the community conversation, the more support there is available,” he explained, “the more places people can ask for help in a crisis, the better that's going to be in the long run, in terms of being able to intervene in that impulsive act.” 

The time immediately after a veteran leaves the military is often a very difficult period.

McCabe believes a veteran's transition out of military life back to civilian life remains one of the most difficult periods to overcome. 

“When a crisis comes along and you're in the military, there are so many places to go with that, so many people to support you.  We train to be in crisis in the military, right?  That's kind of our function.  When you're no longer in the military and a crisis comes along, it can be a very silent place when you're looking for help,” he says. 

The goal of Next Chapter is to get veterans out of that 'silent place' before a crisis becomes a tragedy. 

There is no cost to receive a wide range of services. 

The number is 1-888-719-VETS. 

Article Topic Follows: Veterans

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Bart Bedsole

Bart is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Bart here.


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