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Suicide rates up for military, veterans – Help is available!

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. -- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for Americans, and military veterans make up 20 percent of suicide deaths each year. This is an alarming figure, considering that in 2012 only about 13 percent of U.S. adults overall were veterans.

"What is unique to the military is a deeply held belief of responsibility, service and duty, which makes personal failures and disappointments so much more devastating," said Dr. DeAnn Smetana, Oregon Air National Guard Director of Psychological Health. "Add deployment and the stress of military life and suicidal tendencies can increase," she said.

Thirty-two National Guard members killed themselves during the third quarter of last year, according to the Pentagon's latest report released this month. The Quarterly Suicide Report shows five Air Guard members and 27 Army Guard troops committed suicide during the three-month period of July, August and September 2015.

During that same period in 2014, the numbers were four for the Air Guard and 24 for the Army Guard. In the second quarter of 2015, there were five suicides for the Air Guard and 23 for the Army Guard.

With statistics still waiting to be compiled for the final three months of 2015, the Guard suicide figure for the year seems likely to top that of 2014, when 91 Guardsmen killed themselves. After nine months in 2015, the figure was at 89, with 18 Citizen-Airmen and 71 Citizen-Soldiers taking their own lives.

The latest report shows 142 suicides in the third quarter of 2015 throughout the military, with 72 in the active component and 70 in the reserve component, up from 105 for the same period in 2014. The largest increase was among the Army Reserve, which reported 42 suicides in 2014, but had reported 48 after nine months in 2015.

Intervention is a key factor in mitigating suicides, said Dr. Smetana. "Be alert to behavior changes and the signs of suicidal tendencies. Individuals with loss and trauma, especially during childhood, are at greater risk due to a lifelong devaluation of self.  Each of us can be a human factor that changes this stance.  We can do this by simply being present, alert, and getting individuals to professional," she said.

The DoD's report includes information about the Military Crisis Line, which operates 24/7. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 to speak to someone who is informed about the military.

TRICARE works with the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the Department of Defense's oversight authority to reduce the impact of suicide on service members and their families, and to provide mental health resources to all TRICARE beneficiaries.

If you know someone with suicidal ideations, you might encourage them to reach out to people who may have been exactly where they are right now -- fellow veterans and family members. Vets4Warriors is a free, confidential peer-to-peer support service. The Vets4Warriors call center is staffed by veterans and family members representing all branches of the services. You can connect with them anytime by phone (1-855-838-8255), online chat (visit Vets4Warriors.com) or e-mail (Info@Vets4Warriors.com).

In more urgent situations -- if someone you know is in distress or may be contemplating suicide -- they can contact the Military Crisis Line immediately via phone, online chat, or text message. Just call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1; visit www.militarycrisisline.net; or text 838255.

Asking for help can be hard, but is a necessary first step in receiving assistance and treatment. If you or someone you know needs help, it is available.

"It's important to know who your fellow Airman are," said Dr. Smetana. "Know what their lives are like and what burdens they carry.  Understand and be willing to hear their story."