The rate of veteran suicides in Oregon is far outpacing that of civilians — as it is across the nation — and a local group of community members wants to do something about it.
The plan of several nonprofits and public agencies is to invite military families and area residents to a “Suicide Alternatives Event” from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, in front of the Wasco County Veterans’ Service Office (VSO), 201 Federal Street.
“We’re just going to have a party in the street — a time to celebrate life, a time to be with people who care,” said Chris Mumford, an Army veteran and founder of Outside the Wire, a charitable organization that is lead sponsor of the gathering.
“We are inviting anyone to come who is concerned about veterans and wants to show their support.”
The band Mumford founded, called Got Your Six, the military term for “Got Your Back,” will be performing.
“Music in life can make a big difference,” he said of the concert that is the final in a series of local events to commemorate September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
Point Man International Ministries is providing hot dogs, beans and chips for the party and the VSO will have beverages on hand, along with 25 pies provided by Shari’s Restaurant at a discounted cost.
Several planning meetings have been held to make sure resources are available at the event. The people in attendance have been focused on ways to help veterans in crisis.
Every veteran with PTSD affects 10 other people, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the planning table with Mumford have been Dan Brophy and Mike Knopf of Point Man, Russell Jones and Patrick Wilbern, veterans’ service officers, Susan Gabay of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Sgt. Kaipo Riser from the Oregon State Police, and Kris Boler and Marci McMurphy of GOBHI (Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc).
Each of these groups, plus Outdoor Adventures for Military Heroes, a nonprofit that takes disabled veterans on fishing and hunting trips, will have information available for military families on Saturday.
Roughly 20 veterans a day take their own lives in the U.S. The risk for veterans, after adjusting for differences in age and gender, is 22 percent higher among veterans than civilians, according to VA statistics.
This figure is made even more grim by the fact that veterans make up only 9 percent of the overall population.
The highest number of veteran suicides occur in western states and mostly in heavily populated areas.
In Oregon, the suicide rate is 37.2 veterans for every 100,000 in population, almost 10 points above the national rate of 29.7.
Nationally, middle-age and older veterans are shown to be more at risk. In 2014, about 65 percent of all veterans who died by suicide were 50 or older, according to the VA.
The scope of the problem has led President Donald Trump to sign an executive order that directed the VA, Department of Defense and Homeland Security to develop a plan ensuring that all new veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service.
The three departments have been directed to work together to ensure that the 60 percent of new veterans who do not qualify for enrollment in healthcare, primarily due to lack of a verified service connection to a medical issue, will receive treatment and access to service.
The VA is conducting an ongoing examination of more than 55 million records from 1979 to 2015 from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, to glean information about veteran mental health issues.
Federal officials have already determined that the rate of suicide for veterans who did not receive VA care increased much faster than for those who did.
The use of firearms to commit suicide is high among veterans.
In 2015, the VA determined that 57 percent of death by suicide involved gun use.
The 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line has been set up to provide immediate support and intervention. The number is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). There is also a chat service at VeteransCrisisLine.net and texting option (837255).
The VA, in collaboration with PsychArmor Institute, recently introduced an online suicide prevention training video titled “SAVE” to prepare people who interact with veterans for a life-saving response.
SAVE stands for “Signs,” “Ask,” “Validate,” “Encourage” and “Expedite.”
The training offers simple steps anyone can take, whether a treatment provider, clinician, friend or family member.
The 25-minute free training video can be found at http://psycharmor.org/courases/s-a-v-e/.
Mumford said the message that he and others want veterans suffering from depression or PTSD to understand is: “You do matter.”
“There is hope, there are people who can help you get through those bad times,” he said.
He said Got Your Six band members are willing to teach veterans how to play the guitar or another instrument at of the belief that music is a great way to work out stress and lift your spirits.
Mumford can be contacted for more information about the Sept. 29 program, or involvement in his musical outreach, at 541-980-1911.