The VA held its 6th annual Veterans Behavioral Health Summit focused on reducing the suicide rate among veterans.
Suicide rates have continued to climb in the general population and among veterans. But psychologist Dr. Nathan Tomcik says the VA has programs that can help. “Suicide rates for veterans who get their care at the VA are not rising as quickly,” Tomcik says. “Of those 20 veterans a day that die by suicide, 14 have never stepped through the doors of the VA.”
So this year’s summit was intended to raise the awareness among community partners of the unique factors related to veterans and suicide. “To understand…the impact of deployment and understanding military culture and the lingo involved in the military so they can more effectively engage the veteran and meet the unique needs and, if possible, hook them into treatment with us,” Tomcik said.
Mike Fairman knows first hand the unique factors related to veterans an suicide. After 18 years of service as a Navy Corpsman, Fairman says he came home from Afghanistan and started unpacking some difficult memories – including one of a child killed in the conflict. “I felt like I should have been more compassionate because i was seeing my grandkids in this child that I dealt with,” Fairman said. “I guess I felt guilty that why didn’t I just hold this child, he didn’t do anything to anyone and it was his last dying breath – and so things like that are what really what affected me.”
Fairman says the suicide of one of his own comrades really hit hard. “Now I lost one of my marines out of my platoon and that kind of put me over the edge,” Fairman said.
And in 2012 Fairman tried to take his own life.
Fairman says he got help from the VA and turned his focus to his passion for mountain climbing. He started an organization called Summit for Soldiers to encourage other struggling veterans to reach out for their passion and eventually reach out for help. “My climbing became my mission to bring awareness in honor of these people that we’ve lost,” Fairman said.
Fairman’s trying to become the first veteran to climb all 50 state high points and the 7 great summits of the world. He carried a flag with the names of some veterans who have died by suicide to the top of Mount Everest in 2016.
Mike Fairman says there are a lot of help resources available to veterans but says the veterans has to decide that they want to take advantage of them.
“There’s some responsibility on the veteran to decide to take advantage of the help that’s out there,” Fairman said. “We still live behind a very bravado, ego-driven, stigma-induced environment where we don’t want to seem vulnerable – but the reality is, we are.”
Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK.