Suicide is a public health issue that affects communities nationwide, with more than 45,000 Americans, including more than 6,000 veterans, taking their own lives each year.
And although recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggest the number of veterans to die by suicide has fallen from 22 to 16 per day, the Pocatello Vet Center is observing Suicide Prevention Month next week and plans to visit several Southeast Idaho communities with its Mobile Vet Center to provide veterans, active duty military personnel and their families with key resources and services.
“For the Vet Center, suicide prevention is one of our No. 1 initiatives,” Pocatello Vet Center Veterans Outreach Specialist Cody De Los Reyes told the Journal during a Wednesday phone interview. “It would be amazing to get the number of veterans who die by suicide per day to zero. but this is a struggle that everybody faces. The thing is, suicide is preventable and to get there it’s crucial for people to see the signs and symptoms of a potential suicide and reaching out.”
A large Class A recreational vehicle equipped with satellite communication systems, the Mobile Vet Center is capable of providing clients with on-the-spot counseling sessions with licensed professionals, even in remote locations such as West Yellowstone National Park, De Los Reyes said. The Vet Center organization boasts about 80 Mobile Vet Centers throughout the country, with the closest vehicles coming out of Salt Lake City and Boise, De Los Reyes added.
The Mobile Vet Center road trip through Southeast Idaho starts on Sept. 18 with a visit at the Rexburg Walmart parking lot from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and later in the Rexburg Broulim’s parking lot from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
On Sept. 19 the Mobile Vet Center will visit the Ashton, Idaho Visitor Center next to Big Jud’s from 8 to 10 a.m. It will then travel to Island Park, Idaho Elk Creek from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Later in the day, The Mobile Vet Center will visit the Old Faithful parking lot in West Yellowstone, Wyoming, from 2:30 to 6 p.m.
On Sept. 20 the Mobile Vet Center will visit the Idaho Falls Veterans Memorial Building from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It will then be at Idaho KJ’s Bucks Gas station in Idaho Falls from 2 to 5 p.m.
And on Sept. 21 the Mobile Vet Center will be at the Spud Days Parade in Shelley, Idaho from 9 to 11 a.m. It will then go to the Shelley City Park for the Spud Day Festival from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Finally, the Mobile Vet Center will visit the Indian Motorcycle Shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho from 3 to 4 p.m.
“This will be the first time the Mobile Vet Center will have the chance to tour Southeast Idaho,” De Los Reyes said. “We decided to hit more of the rural areas on this trip because we have the brick-and-mortar location in Pocatello and are also working out of the Idaho Department of Labor building in Idaho Falls.”
In addition to the 80 Mobile Vet Centers, the Vet Center organization has 300 fixed Vet Centers throughout the country that provide community-based counseling for a wide range of social and psychological services — including confidential readjustment counseling, outreach and referral to eligible veterans and active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components and their families.
Furthermore, Vet Centers provide individual, group, marriage and family counseling in addition to referral and connection to other VA or community benefits and services at no cost.
De Los Reyes said Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma, adding that enrollment in the VA health care system is not required to receive Vet Center services.
“At a Vet Center, veterans and active duty service members can walk in the door and get some help that same day at no cost to them,” De Los Reyes said. “This can include readjustment counseling for combat veterans, explaining how to use their GI bill, assisting in getting a home loan or filing a disability claim.”
Though the Pocatello Vet Centers provides a plethora of services to thousands of veterans every year, De Los Reyes stressed the focus of the Mobile Vet Center road trip is to raise awareness regarding the impact suicide has on communities and how people can make a difference.
In 2016, the suicide rate in Idaho was significantly higher than the national suicide rate, as was the rate of Idaho veterans who die by suicide every year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Many veterans, especially combat veterans, are going through things that no other American experiences — those memories, those events and what happened to them overseas during wartime comes back home with them,” De Los Reyes said. “Another thing contributing to a high veteran suicide rate is they have better access to firearms. Also, veterans are an ambitious group and when things go for hard them it’s hard to understand because that is not who they were before post-traumatic stress disorder or depression symptoms occur.”
Preventing veteran suicide is does not rest solely on the back of Veteran organizations, however, De Los Reyes said, adding that it is important for family, friends and community members to recognize the warning sings of suicide and to do something about it.
“Anybody and everybody can reach out to veterans who might be dealing with thoughts or emotions related to suicide,” De Los Reyes said. “It could be as easy as sending a text message, cooking them dinner or just asking them,” How are things going.”
Moreover, veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.