Veteran suicide nationwide has increased from 22 to 27 veterans daily, according to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA).
In Wisconsin, the WDVA estimates, from 2007-2011, 680 veterans died by suicide.
In an effort to tackle this issue, a program called Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) was created by the WDVA Zero Suicide Initiative. The goal of the program is to offer training to prevent veteran suicide in Wisconsin. QPR was brought to UW-Whitewater Nov. 9 in honor of veterans week.
“Awareness doesn’t solve the issue,” Ryan Lonergan, an outreach specialist for the WDVA said. He said suicide awareness is often spoke about, but there’s not a lot of talk of prevention and intervention.
Lonergan is a former UW-Whitewater student and Wisconsin Army National Guard veteran. He wanted to bring QPR to the university because there was very little talk of suicide on campus while he was a student here, he said.
He started helping veterans in 2012 after he felt military support was lacking during his transition back into civilian life. “I didn’t want another veteran to go through the same transition that I went through,” Lonergan said.
He said at first helping veterans was his passion, and now it’s a career. He hopes QPR will be a regular training program for UW-Whitewater.
Lonergan said asking for help is one of the biggest issues veterans have. “The warrior mentality of a veteran is that we’re built up to be these warriors, and warriors don’t ask for help,” he said.
William Breyman is a UW-Whitewater student and Air Force veteran. Breyman said suicide awareness is good for those who have veteran friends or family members because many veterans already get that kind of information in the military. He described it as “beating a dead horse.”
The more people, who are not veterans, who talk about veteran suicide awareness highlights the issue and creates more avenues for veterans to get help, Breyman said.
The Coordinator of Veterans Services for UW-Whitewater, Richard Harris, said veterans helping veterans is very important because there’s certain things only veterans can say to each other.
“A lot of people don’t help because they don’t know what to say,” Harris said.
Hearing stories from veterans who contemplated committing suicide was his biggest learning lesson from working on campus, he said. Harris said he never understood why someone would commit suicide until he listened to other veterans’ stories and understood why they came to that conclusion.
Some wanted to commit suicide to escape pain, he said.
The Campus Assessment, Response and Evaluation Team (CARE Team) is a program that supports students with mental health issues and helps students in crisis. CARE Team Case Manager Andy Browning said his main goal, for students, is let them know there’s support for them on campus so they can achieve their academic and professional goals.
Browning spoke of the possibility of implementing an intervention program like QPR, or a similar program, on campus to train faculty and staff.
To learn more about QPR or the WDVA visit their website: http://dva.state.wi.us/Pages/Home.aspx