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KY National Guard trying to lower startling suicide numbers for veterans

(WKYT)
Published: Jan. 16, 2017 at 5:48 PM EST
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There are, on average, 22 suicides by veterans and service members every day. The number hasn't changed much in the past decade. But the way the Kentucky National Guard is working to lower the number, has changed.

"I think it's something that sometimes comes with just being in uniform. I'm in the army, I'm in the marines, I'm in the navy, and I wear this uniform and I'm supposed to be tough," said Kentucky National Guard Colonel Shon Adams.

"It's a number when you hear it, it's tough to process. When you start thinking about that and you start thinking about the scope of the loss, anything we can do to create awareness, that's what we want to do," State Suicide Prevention Project Manager Mark Slaughter told WKYT's Miranda Combs. He, and Cpt. Dale McKee of the Kentucky National Guard have been tasked with working to prevent suicide in the Guard.

"Social media is a huge thing," Slaughter said. A social media campaign has taken the number 22 and turned it into a sign of strength. Celebrities, veterans and the general public started a facebook campaign by doing 22 push-ups in honor of those who have died. "It enabled folks that maybe they deployed with someone in 2003, and then along comes this social media facebook challenge, and they start thinking about, 'Oh, there was this guy in my platoon, and I'm gonna tag him, and he's going to do 22 push-ups.' And so they've been able to reconnect," Slaughter explained.

"We just have to know that, we're in this together," Col. Adams said. The public support is a part of the puzzle, but the message they are pushing is internal, as well. "They just sometimes feels that there's just nobody out there to be able to relate or understand or talk to," Col. Adams explained. "We have to make them aware that, 'Hey, there are.'"

So, The Kentucky National Guard has increased their training, and now officer suicide prevention to anyone in the guard. "We've just started over the last year pushing it down to the privates, anybody who wants to go," Cpt. McKee said. "That's straight-up Kentucky. Nobody else is doing that," he said.

Cpt. McKee said suicides are tough to keep track of, "The information flow is difficult to have sometimes." The cause of death has been hidden, in past years. But new light is what they say soldiers need.