SAN ANTONIO -- The Department of Veteran Affairs is rolling out new initiatives to help reduce veteran suicides.
The new plan is the result of a summit that took place in February with VA leaders, health care professionals and veteran organizations. The VA undersecretary for health, Dr. David Shulkin, said roughly 8,000 veterans commit suicide a year.
"We take this issue seriously. While no one knows the subject of veteran suicide better than the VA, we also realize that caring for our Veterans is a shared responsibility," Dr. Shulkin said. "We all have an obligation to help veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of military service that lead them to think suicide is their only option."
KENS 5 spoke with a few veterans at VFW post 76 in downtown San Antonio. Juan Cuellar, an army veteran, was a sniper during the Persian Gulf War. He says he still experiences painful flashbacks and nightmares.
"I swim. I go to therapy. They give me some meds to sleep and cope with it. I pray and thank god for another day," Cuellar said.
Iraq veteran Tony Mesquita says his struggles with PTSD have led to suicidal thoughts at times.
"Suicide is for real. PTSD is for real. I have a few of my friends who committed suicide," Mesquita noted. "He didn't get the help he needed. Maybe it was too late."
The VA's new initiatives will focus on better health care treatments, research to understand veterans and will also provide resources to prevent opioid overdoses.
"It's an ugly aspect of war. It's a harsh reality of life. Even when we're at home, we're still at war," Mesquita said.
VFW post 76 holds a monthly memorial to remember veterans who committed suicide and to raise awareness about the issue.
The South Texas Department of Veteran Affairs sent us a statement:
"South Texas Veterans Health Care Systems' main goal is ensuring that all Veterans receive timely access to health care services. We have a very robust Suicide Prevention Program where Suicide Prevention Coordinators are trained and experienced in helping Veterans who are in distress. Our goal is to ensure they receive the appropriate resources and receive care as soon as possible. The mental health need of our Veterans is important and we will continue to provide any new evidence based assessment tools to improve their mental health needs. Veterans who feel they are in a crisis may contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1."