Veteran suicide rate staggering

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

It's a tragedy playing out every day in our state and across the nation -- veterans committing suicide.

Today the Department of Veterans Affairs released its most comprehensive study yet on the subject. 

One of the headline takeaways is that roughly 20 veterans a day take their own lives. For years the number was at 22 suicides a day based on a study that didn't include all military records.  

Jason Deselms, PhD, is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita.

"Reach out," Deselms -- a licensed psychologist -- encourages any veteran thinking about suicide. "That's what we want them to do. Reach out. We have our crisis line which is 24-7. It never shuts down."  

The V-A's phone tree system just changed July 1 so t vets in a crisis can dial straight through for help without having to hang up and dial again.

"With that they'll see what resources are available to them immediately," Deselms said. "If they need to come to the hospital, they'll help arrange that."

He says the VA has the types of programs available to help intervene and help veterans in their times of crisis.

Shanell Smith-Matlock spent 10 years in the army and three years in the national guard.  Smith-Matlock was an assistant chaplain and the first female member of the honor guard. In those roles she says, she dealt with many veteran suicides.  

  "I dealt with an infantry unit here in our state and for about a period of two weeks for a whole summer we were losing a soldier due to some combat related issue," Smith-Matlock said, "The problem that we have, isolation is the worst."  

Isolation is the consistent theme that comes up in interviews on the subject of veterans suicides.

Karl Monger grew up in Wichita, graduated from Wichita State University before becoming an Army Ranger.  Monger is the founder and executive director of GALANTFEW, Inc. based in Dallas which helps veterans.  

Monger's advice to fellow veterans is, "If you know someone that you served with, maybe you deployed with, if you haven't spoken to them in a while, you need to pick up the phone right now and call them and you need to say I've been thinking about you and I want you to know that I love you and respect you and I need you to be a part of my life."