FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — The high rate of suicide among veterans is a growing problem nationally, but it’s a Pennsylvania problem too.
“While we have seen service members more readily able and willing to ask for help, we recognize and continue to combat long-standing stigmas by expressing and emphasizing that asking for help is a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness,” said Brigadier General Laura McHugh, Deputy Adjutant General for the Pennsylvania National Guard.
The PA Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, chaired by Doug Mastriano, gathered experts to talk about the challenges in fighting veteran suicide, the lessons already learned, and the work still to be done.
Chief among those challenges is helping veterans transition from military life back to the civilian world.
“Though many transition successfully, for some the transition is not always a seamless process, often leading to issues such as addiction, unemployment, homelessness, and more,” said Retired Brigadier General Maureen Weigl, Deputy Adjutant General for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Recent studies show anywhere from 17 to 22 veterans die by suicide every day. Bruce Bartz lost his son, Trent.
“He’s gone and you have to let him go. Later I was able to determine that I missed him by four minutes and the message he sent on his cell phone saying it was ok. I’m going to go away for a while,” said Bartz.
Many organizations, like “Operation Save a Vet, Save a Pet,” are trying to put an end to the suicides. The organization matches rescue dogs with local veterans.
“It’s absolutely crucial to think outside the box when it comes to mental health. The worst thing you want to do is try to fit a veteran inside a box because that’s not going to work,” said Justin Slep, Director of Franklin County Veterans Affairs.