Special Report: SC Veterans disproportionately affected by suicide

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW)- September is National Suicide Awareness Month and in South Carolina, the tragedy disproportionately affects veterans.

Chuck Hooks served in the army, but now he’s on a different mission.

“We actually put boots on the ground to the veteran. We don’t just stop with a phone call. We get on a plane and fly to the veteran,” said Chuck Hooks.

Hooks works with the American Military Family Got Your Six. He’s the director of the Quick Reaction Force Team, a non profit made up of suicide certified, combat veterans who respond to struggling vets all over the country.

“That’s your biggest worry is that he’s harmed himself and you can’t get there in time. I’ve been in Walmart in the checkout line at 4:20 in the afternoon and be on an airplane, leaving Myrtle Beach airport at 6:15 p.m. That’s how fast the calls come sometime,” said Hooks.

Hooks told News 13 about situations where veterans have attempted suicide multiple times.

“That should be a wake up call to them letting them know it’s not their time to die.”

Once they do get to a veteran, they help get them treatment they need.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 6,000 veterans die by suicide each year, and every three days a veteran takes their own life in South Carolina. In 2017, 120 South Carolina veterans died by suicide.

A combination of mental health issues from serving our country and things like financial issues, homelessness, or substance abuse could lead someone to thinking that’s they’re only way out. Those issues are heightened amid the pandemic.

“We tend to be very prideful people. We tend to rely back on our previous strengths and our resilience and that is part of the challenge. It’s difficult for many of us to ask for help,” said South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary William Grimsley.

South Carolina’s first Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs William Grimsley took on the role in March. As a veteran, his focus is on a holistic approach to suicide prevention. He’s working on a new proposed system that would track significant life changes allowing local VA’s to preemptively step in.

“Next time I come in and I’m all of a sudden reporting a significant health challenge or maybe all of a sudden there was a domestic situation at my home, combine this with what we’re doing on the VA claims and benefits submission. That’s an immediate intervention opportunity by the appropriate agency or group of people,” said Secretary Grimsley.

In PREVENTS, President Trump’s effort to prevent veteran suicide. Its roadmap addresses issues facing suicide prevention. One recommendation calls on changes to research, data collection, and sharing.

“We definitely need to look at data more than we do right now. We have a lot of data across the nation that we could be looking at, but it’s very difficult because our systems don’t talk to each other,” said Wendy Lakso, with Loyal Government Services/Strategic Wellness Consulting.

Secretary Grimsley said another step his department is working on is to get a veteran court in each judicial circuit in the state. South Carolina currently has five.

The Veteran Coordination Treatment Act signed by President Trump last month could help with that. The legislation calls on the Department of Justice to provide resources to set up those courts on the local level.

“It gives them a treatment opportunity that helps them and helps them work on those things like substance abuse challenges, behavioral health, or whatever it is,” said Sec. Grimsley.

The main thing is to ask for help and know it’s there waiting.

“Don’t feel like it’s a sign of weakness because it’s not. Asking for help is in fact the highest form of self-confidence. If you know you need help go seek it,” said Sec. Grimsley

“If during your time on active duty, if you got wounded in combat or you fell, you had service members there to pick you up to carry you out of battle and it’s the same now that we’re out,” said Hooks.

Below are resources for anyone who is struggling:

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ People can dial 1-800-273-8255 and if you are an active military member or veteran press 1.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the Latinx community: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/en-espanol/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the LGBTQ+ community: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/

If you’d like to learn more about American Military Family click here: https://americanmilitaryfamily.org/

For the South Carolina Department of Veterans Affairs click here: https://scdva.sc.gov/

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