COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS) - Our nation’s veterans are more likely to die by suicide than the rest of the general population, but there are efforts underway to get those who are struggling the help they need.
Even though veterans make up a small percentage of the population in South Carolina, they account for 16 percent of the suicides in 2017. At least three suicides of active-duty airmen have been reported at Shaw Air Force Base alone.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says the suicide rate in South Carolina is at 29.9 per 100,000 people, about 10 more suicides per 100,000.
Since 2005, the veteran suicide rate has nearly doubled.
The nonprofit organization Hidden Wounds connects veterans and active duty military with counseling services.
“When our service members are safer in a combat zone than here at home then we had failed them. I failed them,” Hidden Wounds Program Manager Steven Diaz said. “Us as a community, veterans, medical providers, we have failed them because we’re not doing enough.”
A Department of Defense report shows 541 active-duty members died by suicide across the country in 2018. Diaz says the stigma of getting help could have led to those deaths.
“We have a fear if I don’t speak up and they take me away from my unit, things will be worse,” he said.
That same report shows 186 military dependents or spouses died by suicide in 2017. It was the first year officials kept track of that data.
Hidden Wounds offers services to direct family members of veterans or active duty.
“Our approach is to not take a cookie cutter system to help every single individual,” Diaz said.
Since 2009, Hidden Wounds has helped more than 5,000 people, mostly in South Carolina. Among the people they have helped, there have been no reported suicides.
“Everyone we’ve helped out has been able to cope to a new system,” Diaz said.
He says they’re focused on preventive measures and raising awareness.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says 120 veterans died by suicide in South Carolina in 2017.
If you are a veteran in crisis or are concerned about one, call 800-273-8255 and Press 1, or text 838255.