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Suicide Among Veterans

A collection of photographs sits on a black table in a park. The photos are all of a middle-aged Asian man in various poses and locations.
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VPM News Focal Point
A community walk to end suicide. Those who’ve lost friends discuss its impact on veterans.

A community walk to prevent suicide centers on awareness and remembrance of those lost. Agencies like the Dept. Of Veterans Services provide resources to reduce the suicide rate, particularly among veterans.


A.J. NWOKO: Though veteran suicide across the country and here in Virginia May never be totally eradicated, experts say it can be prevented. And a lot of times that prevention starts with human connections and conversations.

It's a community no one asked to be a part of, encompassing a crisis not talked about enough. But at this Out of the Darkness Walk, those who push forward are reminded that suicide impacts people in all walks of life.

MICHAEL TUCKER (LOST UNCLE TO SUICIDE): We may not be able to always get to those people, but we can walk until we can get there.

A.J. NWOKO: And the colored beads they wear around their necks represent that heartache, comes in different hues. Red beads for the loss of a spouse. Teal representing someone who's attempted and silver.

MICHAEL TUCKER: The silver represents military, or first responders.

A.J. NWOKO: Michael Tucker wears for Army National Guard Staff Sergeant William Ray.

MICHAEL TUCKER: He was my uncle. Saying the word "was" is already hard enough. He was family, I mean, for many months, he was like a big brother to me. I grew up with him. It was something that he truly enjoyed and he was proud to do, and he did it for 18 years.

A.J. NWOKO: And like so many others, Tucker never suspected his uncle was silently suffering.

MICHAEL TUCKER: He was always just ridiculously goofy for no reason.

A.J. NWOKO: Until April 25th, 2020, while Ray was still serving.

MICHAEL TUCKER: His friend said, later that night, they all ended up getting in their tents and they heard the gunshot go off. So I don't

A.J. NWOKO: And unfortunately.

MICHAEL TUCKER: I don't think any of us expected it.

A.J. NWOKO: Tucker's story isn't unique.

CARL TROST: I would say too many times.

A.J. NWOKO: Retired Navy chaplain, Carl Trost knows that better than most.

COMMANDER CARL TROST (FORMER NAVY CHAPLAIN): My responsibility was to make sure that you had everything that you needed to be able to practice your faith.

A.J. NWOKO: For 25 years, it was Trost's job to ensure his sailors' mental and emotional needs were met, sometimes with success, but far too often.

CARL TROST: I found that I was doing memorial services for marines, and I'd do about five or six a year, sometimes more.

A.J. NWOKO: And though on the decline, Trost says, the circumstances that drive veterans to suicide often start during the transition from soldier to civilian.

CARL TROST: Any kind of change, transition, it's very stressful. And depending upon what kind of resiliency skills you have, you can manage the stress, or the stress may manage you.

A.J. NWOKO: According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, in 2020, there were over 6,000 veteran suicides, an average of nearly 17 veterans a day. Taking a closer look at the Commonwealth, the report shows that Virginian veterans accounted for 181 deaths in 2020. Nationally, firearms accounted for over 70% of all suicide among veterans. But in Virginia, firearms were used in over 80% of veteran suicides. While the statewide report touts that the Virginia suicide rate among veterans is significantly below the national average, Brandi Jancaitis with the State Department of Veteran Services says the report still doesn't reflect the true scope of the crisis.

BRANDI JANCAITIS (DIRECTOR, VIRGINIA VETERAN & FAMILY SUPPORT PROGRAM): That picture gets a lot bigger when you talk about those that may have had suicidal ideation or attempts and that never got logged by a provider.

A.J. NWOKO: To that end, Jancaitis says, the Virginia Veteran Family Support Program which operates through the DVS, receives about $6.7 million annually to provide services like mental health, substance abuse, treatment for suicidal ideation, and more.

BRANDI JANCAITIS: Because if someone's connected feels like they have purpose and camaraderie, they're less likely to experience mental health symptoms or suicidal ideation.

A.J. NWOKO: A message Tucker vows to continue communicating to other veterans in an effort to save lives.

MICHAEL TUCKER: They’re our shields, they’re our heroes. They're people that we look at to do a job, but they need to be remembered that they're still people and they still struggle just the same.

A.J. NWOKO: Reporting for VPM News Focal Point, I'm A.J. Nwoko.