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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

'Parking Lot Suicides' Spotlight A Problem North Texas Veterans Center Aims To Tackle

flag-draped coffin - veteran suicide

A recent report from the Washington Post, titled "The Parking Lot Suicides," looks into the disturbing trend of veterans dying by suicide on the property of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A North Texas nonprofit has developed a program to combat veteran suicides.

The Post found that from October 2017 to November 2018, 19 suicides occurred on VA campuses. The department says seven of those took place in parking lots, and that it did not track the number of on-campus suicides before 2017. 

Experts have raised concerns that suicides on VA campuses are a show of protest against a system that's meant to help veterans.

"Those are angry statements and frustrated statements, and unfortunately, there is no going back from that,” says Charlynn Johns with the Veterans Resource Center in Dallas. 

The center works to help veterans navigate civilian life and find housing. Its #StopOne program teaches people how to identify warning signs and how to talk to a veteran who's experiencing mental health challenges. Johns, who directs the #StopOne program, says the focus should be on helping individual people.

"Our goal is to saturate the community and people surrounding veterans, caregivers, employers and neighbors, to where they can identify when a veteran is going into a crisis mode,” Johns says, “and also to provide them the information that's readily accessible but many people just aren't aware of."

Johns says building a strong network of support around veterans is one of the most effective strategies for preventing suicide.

A 2018 VA report found that veterans were 1.5 times as likely to die by suicide compared to the rest of the population. In 2016, Texas saw 530 veteran suicides. The Trump administration has said that preventing veteran suicides is a top priority. President Trump signed an executive order last year to help veterans returning from active duty transition to civilian life. And it included a commitment to mental health care.

The Veterans Resource Center offers monthly mental health first aid classes. Johns says they're not trying to turn people into armchair psychologists, but she says it's important to check in if you're concerned someone might be thinking about harming themselves.

“Even though someone might say, 'yeah, yeah, no, I'm fine,' the next step would be, 'hey, well let's spend some time together. Hey, you want to go grab a coffee?...' and get that person out and engaged,” she says.

Texas Veteran Suicide Data on Scribd:

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.