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Veteran suicide rate double that of general population

By Will Wadley, KECI Weekend Anchor, wwadley@keci.com
Published On: Feb 27 2013 10:28:30 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 28 2013 06:10:44 PM MST
MISSOULA, Mont. -

NBC Montana has a special report on an epidemic that's taking the lives of thousands of veterans a year.

According to a new report released this month by the United States Veterans Affairs Office, in a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world, Veterans are about twice as likely to take their own life as civilians.

Montana has the highest per capita percentage of veterans in the country. Montana's also notable for having the highest suicide rate in the country. For veterans these, are statistics specialists at the Montana V.A. Center are painfully aware of, and are working hard to change.

"It's hard,” said Iraq war veteran Ryan Ranalli. “The nightmares, flashbacks, anger, depression, just feeling like you are alone"

Ryan Ranalli left Iraq five years ago, but for him and his fellow soldiers, the casualties continued.

"Within a 13 month span when I got out, I had 6 friends commit suicide that I served with," said Ranalli. "They isolate themselves so much that they feel that's the only way out."

I didn't see the V.A. for probably a couple of years after I got back," said veteran Bob Clemo.

He fought in Vietnam, and said it was a different war, but the same story.

"I know an awful lot of Vietnam Vets (who) took their lives."

A study released early this month by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Office found that suicide killed more active duty veterans in 2012 than active duty combat did.

The report estimates that 22 veterans a day, or one every 65 minutes, takes their own life.

According to the Montana V.A. center, last year in Montana, 6 veteran suicides were reported, and 2 years ago, the number was 11.

"(Suicide) is kind of the last taboo,” said V.A. Suicide Prevention Coordinator Kellie LaFave. “You don't want to talk about suicide, you don't want to say the s-word. We have a culture that says, well, if you go get help for mental health issues, than you must be crazy, you must be dangerous."

LaFave said, in 2005, The U.S. Veterans Affairs Office has started a coordinated, large scale effort to understand veteran suicide, and prevent it.

"We need to come to the point with mental health, and talking about suicide, is as common as talking about your cholesterol level, and what your numbers are," said LaFave.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist Dr. Dudley Blake said preventing veteran suicide will take more than medical treatment.

"If we had mental health services at a larger scale, we could meet a lot of the needs of many veterans, but I do think that the greater impact would be a greater understanding of what this is about," said Blake.

In 2005, the Veteran's Affairs Office set up a confidential veteran's crisis line that's available 24 hours a day. Than line can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255.

Montana also has its own crisis line staffed by V.A. trained volunteers from the non-profit group Spartan's Honor. That number is 406-327-7834. Veterans living on Montana reservations can also call 406-407-3589.