OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City has joined a select group of cities to study and help prevent suicides among military service members, veterans and their families. The project is part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs “Mayor’s Challenge,” in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The issue hits home hard.

More young veterans are killing themselves in Oklahoma than anywhere else in the nation, and while the VA is working to address the issue, they need help to reverse the trend.

The VA is targeting areas that have been hit the hardest by the tragedy of suicide. Oklahoma City is near the top of the list.

Mayor David Holt said, “This has always been a community with a lot of active service members and a lot of veterans, so it’s a community that wants to help those people because they’ve done so much for us.”

Suffering with opioid and drug addictions, PTSD and other anguish, vets and service members often do not see another way out, according to Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Programs Administrator John Wilson.

“To escape that pain, they see suicide as a viable alternative,” Wilson explained. “We know that it’s not. We know that services are there. We’re striving to build a system to better recognize those issues and then intervene.”

The Mayor’s Challenge brings together a variety of agencies from the local, state and federal level to see what is working and what is lacking in services offered here.

OKC VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator Juanita Celie said, “I think it starts with everyone in the community accepting some roles in this, because I think people underestimate the power that they have in being able to reach out and connect with these veterans.”

As they continue to work together, they aim to break the stigma surrounding mental health. Wilson says one solution is for all healthcare providers to simply ask if their patient or family members have served in military.

“If yes, that then opens the door to a dialogue about that military service, and what may be disclosed may cause someone’s life to be saved,” he said.

If you are contemplating self-harm or suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1(800) 273-8255. For military members and veterans, press 1 for specialized care.

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