A recent executive order issued by the Trump administration is providing mental health and suicide prevention resources to military service members transitioning into public life. The Department of Veteran Affairs has found that veterans who recently left active duty can face challenges like homelessness, unemployment, and substance abuse which can increase an individual’s risk of suicide.
U.S. military veterans, in general, commit suicide more often than their civilian counterparts. Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden sat down with Matt Gaudiuso, the suicide prevention coordinator at the V.A. Medical Center in Big Spring and spoke with him about resources available to veterans in West Texas.
MB: “Hi Matt, just to start things off. How prevalent is suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm among the veteran population?”
MG: “[The] Veteran population is a higher per capita in attempting and completing suicide than the general population.”
MB: “What would you like people to know about this recent executive order and your efforts to reach out to the veterans in 33 counties that you guys serve?”
MG: “What’s important to note is that most veterans that attempt and kill themselves are not in V.A. care so this executive order is very important to try to get as many veterans as possible in care, therefore, decreasing the risk of suicide.”
MB: “Has this executive order changed anything about the outreach you’re doing or the focus you guys are having on people?”
MG: “It just decreases our awareness that we need to be out there. We need to reach out to the veterans and let them know that we’re here whenever they need us.”
MB: “Do you see people having a hard time picking up the phone for the crisis line? I can just see in my mind that you know so I feel like I’m not there yet. I don’t need to do that yet. And for those people, would you advise just to call to see if there is a problem or… yeah I’ll let you take from there.”
MG: “Sure. Imagine you know going to strangers and trying to talk about the most personal things that they’re going through. That is a very difficult thing to do for anybody.
What’s important about the crisis line is that they have people that are experienced in helping veterans and active military and have understanding. It’s important for them to understand that you’re not to get into anything. See how comfortable you feel with talking to them.
You know, you don’t have to talk about your deepest darkest secrets and what’s going on you could just have that [conversation], ‘hey listen you know I just wanted to call you I do have some things going on but I really don’t trust a lot of folks. So I just wanted to call and see kind of basically you guys a dry run and see how it goes and then go from there.”
MB: “When you reach out to people what do you say. This is such a hard subject and how do you approach it?”
MG: “You want a future-oriented people especially when they haven’t suicidal thoughts you got to try to get them the remember that there are things to live for because suicide’s often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
You know, somebody may be getting a divorce, somebody may have a serious medical condition that can resolve, but at that point in time, they feel like there is no other solution than suicide. It’s getting them past that initial concern where you can better help them.
Suicides are a deadly business. People die so it’s very important for us to try to be there and try to keep folks from from attempting suicide.”
MB: “Well Matt would you just list the numbers that people can reach you and theV.A. at?”
MG: “Sure, the main V.A number is (432)-263-7361 and my extension here at the V.A. is #7325 and the Veterans Military Crisis Line number is 1-800-273-8255 press one.”
MB: “And no matter what, if you just feel like you need to call, call?”
MG: “Absolutely. You call if you need something. If I can’t help you, I’ll find somebody who can.”
MB: “Well, thanks Matt for sitting down with me today.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts you can call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For more information about resources available to veterans, you can call the VA in Big Bend at (432)-263-7361.