4 Investigates: New Mexico veterans suffering from higher rates of suicide
March 28, 2019 11:56 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- The phrase "22-a day," is becoming more known around the country. Twenty-two is the number of veterans and active duty servicemen who die of suicide every day.
Recent numbers show the rate is much higher in New Mexico. KOB 4 investigated why this is the case and what's being done to address this problem.
"I did six deployments to Iraq. So my specific job was a corpsman stationed with the Marine Corps. So we're front lines, we're in the mix of things and we're seeing everything first hand," said Albuquerque veteran Kano Williams.
Now that Williams is home, he said anything can trigger a switch in his mind that takes him back to the battlefield.
"I wound up getting blown out of a vehicle, knocked on my head, I had a cranial hemorrhage, I was in a coma, and I was in a wheel chair for about a year and a half," he said.
That, coupled with PTSD, had Kano walking down a dark path.
"I know what it feels like to feel lost. I know what it feels like to not want to be here," he said.
Like many veterans in this situation, Kano thought about taking his own life.
Death by suicide is a public health concern and for veterans the numbers are startling. According to the latest report from the Department of Veteran's Affairs, the national suicide rate for veterans is 30.1 per 100,000. Here in New Mexico it’s higher at 44.1 per 100,000.
There were 91 veteran suicides in New Mexico in 2014, 69 in 2015 and another 71 in 2016. Numbers for 2017 and 2018 have not been compiled yet.
"In the more rural states, that the suicide rates are at a high level, we attribute that to isolation," said New Mexico VA Suicide Prevention Case Manager Christina Camacho.
She says in many of the state’s rural communities, veterans have a difficult time reaching out for help.
While the Veteran Affair's Department has been vocal about decreasing suicides, a recent Government Accountability Office report showed the VA was grossly underfunding suicide prevention programs.
According to the report, $6.2 million was set aside for suicide prevention campaigns for fiscal year 2018 but only $57,000 was used. That's less than one percent of the budget. A reason for that is the top suicide prevention position wasn't filled, which has since changed.
KOB 4 asked how New Mexico may have been affected.
"That's more of the national level of how they dispense that money," Camacho said.
She could not say how the problems revealed in the accountability report affected our state. But she did say New Mexico has been given more resources to help address suicides such as more training on how to help aging veterans. Also, new funding for a brand new social worker to travel to smaller communities.
KOB 4 asked what needs to be done to the suicide rate to be non-existent in our state.
"As far as New Mexico and all veterans, we do need more mental health resources," she said.
Kano agrees more mental health resources are needed. That's why he's also on a mission by getting more people to talk about PTSD. He's even using his car to get that message out with a car wrap that displays PTSD in an art form.
"The whole idea is to pretty much to have a rolling billboard whether I'm going to the grocery store or to work that I have a conversation piece. It's my own personal way of dealing with it for me," he said.
Kano also started the organization “Shellshock 22”. "Shell shock" is how some used to refer to PTSD and “22” calls attention to the number of veterans who die by suicide every day. His goal is to raise money for veterans mental health services.
"There's nothing more saddening to me than to see someone who has survived one deployment, six, eight deployments of combat get home to their loved ones just to die. It makes no sense to me," he said.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention line at 1-800-273-8255.
Updated: March 28, 2019 11:56 AM
Created: March 25, 2019 03:06 PM
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