Mayor Alvin Brown says he's is setting his sights on an issue that continues to threaten the well-being of the city's large and growing veterans community: the suicide rate among veterans.
The city of Jacksonville Military Affairs, Veterans and Disabled Services Department is teaming up with the University of North Florida's Military and Veterans Resource Center to host Jacksonville's second annual Veterans Summit, and Brown said he wants suicide awareness and prevention to be the major topic of discussion.
"The suicide rate among veterans is astounding," he said in a news release. "I cannot -- we cannot -- stand by and watch this number tick higher. These men and women are the defenders of our freedom. It's our responsibility to take action, to talk to veterans, to work with mental health professionals, to do whatever is necessary to help our local heroes help themselves and stay safe. This is among the most pressing issues facing our armed services, and I believe it's our duty to play a role in its resolution within our military community."
According to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study released Feb. 1, the number of suicides among veterans has increased overall since 1999. At the turn of the millennium, it is estimated that 20 veterans in the U.S. committed suicide each day. In 2010, the most recent period for which data is available, the number had crept up to 22 veterans per day. This represents a veteran suicide every 65 minutes.
UNF MVRC Director Ray Wikstrom hopes the summit will raise awareness in the Jacksonville community and, ultimately, contribute to local solutions that can help alleviate the problem.
"Like Jacksonville, UNF has a very high military and veteran population in relation to its total size," Wikstrom said. "As more and more vets return home from war, make a home here and enroll at our university to pursue degrees, we must ensure that we continue to be a leading institution for veteran resources and services. This summit is an important event for our city and for UNF, and we're proud to partner with Mayor Brown to assist our nation's finest. I'm confident that together we can engage this issue in a meaningful way."
The summit will take place on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at UNF's Adam W. Herbert University Center. The event will bring together a diverse gathering of veterans, support groups, family members, service providers and other stakeholders in an effort to develop strategies to keep local veterans safe. The summit will also attempt to shed light on how the VA's national figures translate into local effects within the Jacksonville community.
Brown, MAVDS Director Rear Admiral (ret.) Vic Guillory and Director Wikstrom will deliver opening remarks. Toula Wootan, Community Development Officer for Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, who also created the organization's Veterans Partnership, will be the summit's keynote speaker. Three breakout sessions featuring subject matter expert facilitators will also take place, and the individual sessions' subtopics are:
- Cause and Effect: Why does it happen and who does it affect?
- Impacts and Shared Experiences: What are real, personal impacts and shared experiences?
- Signs and Symptoms: What are the warning signs and are these suicides preventable?
A working lunch will then take place followed by a session wrap-up and a presentation of summit findings.
The summit is open to the general public, and all interested citizens, particularly those involved in the wide array of veteran support organizations, are encouraged to attend. Seats are limited, and the online registration form can be found here.