PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – The suicide rate among veterans is the lowest it’s been in over a decade. It fell nearly 10% between 2018 and 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Agencies and nonprofits providing resources to veterans to prevent suicide say this is an encouraging trend but believe there is still more work to be done.
They say there is a need for more comprehensive resources.
Ponte Vedra-based K9s For Warriors is one such resource that is expanding.
Its largest K9 class is graduating Thursday night as 16 highly trained dogs are heading off with their new veteran partners.
Shane Krebs and K9 Cash have been together for close to a decade.
Their bond grows each day and Krebs said that has been crucial for him since he transitioned out of the military.
“Over the years, since being deployed, I’ve had more friends that have committed suicide than have died in combat,” he said.
Krebs spent 11 years in the United States Army and Marine Corps.
He said getting timely help for struggles matters.
“When I first got out of the Marine Corps, it took me six months to get into the VA to see a psychologist,” Krebs said. “That is a big gap for somebody who has significant issues.”
A new study shows fewer veterans are dying by suicide on a daily basis.
According to a recent Veteran Affairs suicide prevention report, less than 17 veterans took their own lives each day in 2020.
That is the lowest rate since 2006 and two fewer suicide deaths a day than in 2018.
K9s For Warriors CEO Rory Diamond believes these latest numbers are encouraging signs that resources are being used.
“We are seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Diamond said.
Diamond said as the largest class of K9s is graduating from their program, it means more help is on the way and may come sooner for more veterans.
He anticipates the wait list for veterans to get matched with a K9 will drop from four years to two years by 2023.
“There is a life after service and our job as a community is to help them get there,” Diamond said.
The VA’s report says 6,146 veterans died by suicide in 2020, and Diamond and Krebs know the job is not finished.
In addition to more resources, they both believe there need to be more discussions about mental health, traumatic brain injuries and education to help others.
“The first part is just asking for help,” Diamond said. “We train our warriors to be strong, to go and fight and win wars. What we do not train them to do is to know how to ask for help.”
“It changes your life,” Krebs said. “I went from being a recluse, having anger issues, drinking heavily to now I go to Disney World with my kids. I go to Universal Studios. I go to college football games. I am able to get back to living a life like I used to have.”
The K9s For Warriors graduation is Thursday at 5 p.m. at the group’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra.