Councilman: ‘We lose over 6,000 US military veterans to suicide each year’

Wreaths Across America Radio hosting roundtable discussions on veteran healing

FILE - In this May 31, 2021 file photo, flags and tributes mark the Memorial Day holiday at Fort Logan National Cemetery in southeast Denver. The number of U.S. military suicides jumped by 15% last year, fueled by significant increases in the Army and Marine Corps that senior leaders called troubling. They urged more effort to reverse the trend. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Alarming stats from the USO show suicide rates among active military are at an all-time high since the group started keeping records after 9/11. Wreaths Across America Radio will host the first of five-round table discussions on Thursday, focused on saving lives.

The discussions come as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the creation of an independent panel to review suicide prevention programs and suggest improvements.

Men and women of the armed forces fight battles to protect our freedom. But sometimes, their biggest battles are the ones they face when they return home. Jacksonville City Councilman Nick Howland is executive director of The Fire Watch, which aims to prevent veteran suicide through connectedness.

“We lose over 6,000 US military veterans to suicide each year,” Howland said. “And in context, we’re losing veterans at a rate of one and a half to two times higher than civilians.”

The group has served more than 1.5 million veterans in 67 counties. According to its website, it has 1,848 Watch Standers. Watch Standers are individuals trained to know the warning signs, which Howland said aren’t that different from what is observed in civilians. The goal is to identify the issue and act quickly.

“It could be undiagnosed or diagnosed mental illness, it could be marital or other relationship issues, it could be financial distress,” Howland said. “So, for us, the process of healing begins with addressing those early symptoms.”

Howland said one of the highest risk groups is veterans between 18 and 34 years old.

“That, also, is the age group getting out of the military most every day,” Howland said. “So that means we have a problem now that’s only going to get bigger if we don’t address it now.”

If you are a veteran in crisis, call 911 or the veteran crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re a veteran who needs help, call 211. Veterans will be directed to veteran assistance, including legal aid, health, and financial resources.

“It’s so imperative to not suffer alone in silence but to get the help that you need,” Howland said. “And there are so many great resources here in Northeast Florida and across the whole state that are available to veterans.”

To learn more about veteran suicide prevention, and to learn how to become a Watch Stander, visit their website.

To learn more about Wreaths Across America Radio and its roundtable discussions on veteran healing, you can visit their website.

The first roundtable broadcast is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.

Jacksonville Beach events

Jacksonville Beach is hosting two events this weekend for veteran suicide awareness and prevention:

  • The Irreverent Warriors Silkies Hike is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 915 8th Ave. S. More info
  • The Challenge 22 Event & Walk starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with registration starting at 9 a.m. at 75 1st St. N. More info

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.