By Guy Page
Vermont’s faith-based communities can help the VA help suicide-prone veterans, Dr. Brett Rusch of the VA Medical Center said today.
In 2017 alone, 10 Vermont veterans committed suicide. Of 45,000 suicide victims nationwide, 6000 — one in nine — are veterans.
Rusch was speaking at a Montpelier press conference called by Gov. Phil Scott.
Vermont has particularly tight knit communities, including those based on faith, Rusch said. They can offer veterans help with one of their most crippling problems: “loneliness. Faith-based communities are particularly suited to help veterans see the extent to which they are not alone. These are powerful communities that can show veterans that they are not isolated.”
The VA reaches, at best, just half of U.S. veterans. People in government, civic, media and religious organizations of all kinds can deliver hope to suffering vets.
Sometimes hope looks like a phone number: the VA suicide prevention line at 802-295-9363 and the crisis line at 800-273-8255 (press 1). Also, walk-ins are welcome at the VA in White River Junction.
Sometimes hope looks like another vet describing how he or she found help. Gen. Greg Knight, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, described at the press conference how he admitted to himself and others that he needed help. “When I returned from Ramadi in 2006, I went to the VA in White River to work through some of my life changing experiences.”
“It hasn’t hurt my career,” Knight said, alluding to unnecessary, harmful concerns that admitting to PTSD can hinder advancement. “There is no shame in seeking help. You have options. Tomorrow just will not be the same without you.”
As the holidays approach, all Vermonters — including faith community members — are encouraged to include struggling veterans in family, community, and religious holiday observations. And listen. And do whatever else possible to throw a lifeline. The VA can’t do it alone.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.