U.S. Military Suicides Hit Record High - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

U.S. Military Suicides Hit Record High

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For our men and women in uniform, the battle isn't always on the battlefield.  In fact, new numbers show that there's a growing battle off of the battlefield.

According to the Pentagon, 349 American troops committed suicide last year, exceeding the 295 services members killed in Afghanistan in 2012.

Those are the highest numbers, since the Pentagon began keeping track of service member suicides in 2001.

"Veterans are at a greater risk for suicide than the civilian population," said Erie VA Suicide Coordinator Lisa Schwartz.  "It's very important to have support, because of that risk."

Over the past five years, she's helped develop a program to help out local veterans suffering from mental illness.

"We have expanded programs in behavioral health to focus on veterans in need, that may be struggling with various mental health illnesses, which is post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety," said Schwartz.  "We've expanded the programs to focus on the veterans needs."

The Erie VA has also teamed up with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for the Family-to-Family program.

"Suicide is really a one time event, but it leaves a lasting impression on the friends and family," said NAMI of Erie County Executive Director Denise Kolivoski.  "That's where the NAMI Family-to-Family program comes in.  We provide support, an outlet for grief and sorrow, and ultimately to start the healing process."

In an effort to provide even more services for veterans, the Erie VA Hospital is currently building a brand new 20,000 square foot behavioral health facility.  The $6.2 million dollar project is expected to be complete by the middle of 2013.

"Our services continue to grow," said Schwartz.  "The new building will help to meet the veterans needs."

And no matter what those needs are, there is help.

"The Erie VA has a stance that it takes the courage of a warrior to ask for help," said Schwartz.  "Despite how painful this can be, we really encourage veterans to reach out for help.  It's possible to feel better."

There's also a crisis line for service members.  That number is 1-800-273-8255.

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