Military

Jul 24, 2013 4:01 PM by Juice Godfrey

Colo panel offers steps to reduce veteran suicides

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Vietnam War veteran Wayne Telford wants to reduce the risks for military veterans who may be prone to suicide.

The Grand Junction man wishes more help could have been offered to his daughter, Brooke, an Air Force veteran who committed suicide just weeks after returning home last year.

"Your biggest fear as a parent is something would happen when they go to war," he said. "You never conjure in your mind that the worst would happen after they get back."

To try to keep similar loss from happening to other families, Telford served as one of a number of collaborators on a panel studying how to handle the high rates of suicide among military veterans.

The study, compiled with mental health care professionals and a number of other officials dedicated to tackling the issue, was created through a partnership with the office of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. The report identified 11 recommendations to curb veteran suicide rates.

"I've met with so many family members (of military veterans) who said they weren't well- equipped and need help with their integration back into their family and their community," Bennet said last week. "It's important for people to know they're not my recommendations. They have been made by veterans themselves."

According to a February study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans commit suicide every day nationwide. Included in those numbers, 937 veterans committed suicide in Colorado in the past five years.

Some of the recommendations include screening future military personnel for existing mental health issues before enlistments, offering families tools to identify when mental health issues arise in loved ones after they are discharged and combining medical records between the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Other suggestions are allowing military personnel to enroll in the Veterans Affairs system up to six months before being discharged to avoid lapses in mental health care and extending TRICARE, the HealthCare network offered through the Department of Defense, to members of the National Guard and Active Reserve.

The panel also encouraged fostering better community networks for veterans and supporting contact among veterans so they can help each other.

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