Crisis among veterans prompts suicide prevention fair

Friday event at VA facilities to raise awareness, create partnerships

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Veterans face the highest risk of suicide of any group in the nation. Part of ongoing efforts to prevent those deaths in Jacksonville will take place Friday in Jacksonville.

A veterans suicide prevention and awareness fair will be held Friday at the Veterans Administration Clinic on Jefferson Street and other clinics, hospitals and health care facilities across the region, designed to get a message to a proud group of patriots

"We invite veterans and family members, community providers, and it's an opportunity for them to come to the VA," said Katherine Eicher, lead suicide prevention coordinator for the VA North Florida/South Georgia. "Learn about veterans suicide and the resources that are available."

The VA clinic, which treats thousands of people every day, calls suicide prevention the No. 1 clinical priority. Eicher and VA Public Affairs Officer Dan Henry are passionate about eliminating it and feel partnerships are the key.

"The VA is limited in what we can do sometimes because of federal regulations," Henry said. "There's only so much we can do ... but the community can do whatever it wants. And what I say to people is, 'Look, if we work with you, we can walk up to the line. We can hand off the baton and the community can go."

Eicher and Henry believe the community cares, but maybe doesn’t understand how big an issue suicide has become among veterans.

•    White men over 50 remain the highest demographic for suicide.
•    The VA reports that of the 20 veterans taking their own lives each day in America, 14 of them haven’t had any contact with the VA.
•    The VA is committed to changing that ASAP. 

"So we're always looking at ways to reach those 14 veterans that are dying by suicide that aren't connected with our VA Health System," Henry said. "So this year, what we've done is we've put veteran crisis line information in the bus shelters all throughout Jacksonville, inside the buses. And we've also VA crisis logo outside the buses."

The VA said St. Marys, Georgia, has been hit particularly hard by veteran suicides this year, with 11 since the start of the year.

Henry tells military members to think of Friday's event like a stand down.

"Whenever you hear the term stand down in the military, that means we're going to stop, we're going to reassess; we're going to find out what's going on, to kind of solve some problems that may have been happening," he said. "That's what we're looking to do at this.”

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