Veterans living in Nevada account for one in five of the state’s total number of suicides. According to the Veterans Administration, that number is significantly higher than the national average for service members.
Risk management experts believe challenges unique to Nevada are part of the problem.
“Gambling is a significant negative coping mechanism, and clearly, Las Vegas is the capital of that,” said Michael Hudson, a Marine Corps veteran and the vice president of Clear Force, a risk management company.
Clear Force is working to combat the number of veteran suicides by using targeted data.
Currently, the company works with corporations and businesses to find employees who struggling. It then works with the businesses to address policies behind that stress and pressure to keep the employee on the team.
Now, Hudson said they want to use that same technology to help the VA and Department of Defense find veterans who need help.
“It is all on the veteran to take that first step," he said, "We think you need to flip that and have the organization seeking to help… whether that’s the big VA or the state VA, they should be made aware of individuals who are on a trajectory, that have known stress factors, and they should be reaching out not waiting for them to make that first step,” he said.
Right now, the VA reaches out to veterans three times a year, but Hudson said the agency could use data it already has about that veteran to target calls around life events that might be a trigger.
They can also look for veterans who might be using negative coping mechanisms like gambling or substance abuse, which can increase their risks for suicide.
In addition to gambling, another challenge the Silver State faces is its rural counties, Hudson said. One of the biggest reasons is isolation from a support system.
“If you come back to a rural environment and you don’t have good connecting files to other military members or organizations, veterans’ services organizations, community groups where veterans get together, you can lose that protective factor and I guess that puts them at risk in that first year,” he said.
The first year out of the service is when a lot of former members run into problems, Hudson said.
In the military, people are with a team and are focused on finishing a mission. Outside the military, they are on their own to sort out their life. Plus, with very few people actually serving in the military, veterans have few people to talk to about their experiences, Hudson said.
“I think one of the best ways you can get in the fight and help out, whether you’re a trained professional or just a friend or a family member, is that connectedness, that outreach model.”
Ultimately, Hudson would like to see the VA flip the model and focus on targeting the veterans who don't reach out to get services to them before they take their own lives.
He would also like to see the system work in an empowering way instead of treating people who need help as damaged or broken in some way.
“It has to be what we did in the military: ‘Hey we’re going to help you with your mission. We’re going to empower you on your journey.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670
Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863
De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454
Michael Hudson, Marine Core Veteran, Vice President of Clear Force.
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