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Hampton VA helping male veterans, raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention

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Posted at 8:02 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 23:42:39-05

HAMPTON, Va. - This month, News 3 is taking action for men's health, sharing stories of cancer survivors and resources while also raising money for the Movember Foundation.

The group addresses topics many men don’t often talk about, including mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

Officials with the Hampton VA Medical Center are taking action to try and open more conversations concerning mental health and suicide prevention.

According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 30% of active duty and reserve personnel deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq have a mental health condition requiring treatment. Furthermore, less than half of returning veterans in need get any sort of mental health treatment.

Also, this year, the VA reported that, in 2019, about 17 veterans per day on average committed suicide.

“I know I'm not healed,” Navy veteran Jimmie Richardson told News 3. “Every day is not a good day, but it's better than yesterday.”

Richardson lives by this mantra almost 20 years after coming to Hampton Roads to get treated for a substance abuse issue.

But he said over the years, he realized he had more than just a drug problem. At one point, he was without a home and in and out of rehab.

“Through the years, people kept telling me I had issues,” Richardson said. “I kept denying myself that I didn't have those issues that they were speaking of. One of them was PTSD.”

But eventually, he came to the Hampton VA Medical Center for PTSD treatment.

“After suffering for a long time, I surrendered and let someone help me,” he said.

That call for help evolved into a call to action.

Richardson became a peer support specialist for the Hampton VA to help other veterans just like him.

“[To] help empower them [and] to let them know that we've been through the same things that they've been through,” he said. “Coming out [of the military], we had to find our way and transition back to a civilian way, and it's not that easy for some of us.”

Hampton VA doctors told News 3 since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they've seen an uptick in veterans with more thoughts of suicide.

“A lot of the leading reason is secondary to the fact they've had financial downturns during the pandemic, and they've become homeless,” Hampton VA Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Shawn Alexander said. “That's put them in a situation that they've not been prepared to deal with before.”

“Mental health is everybody's job,” Dr. Alexander said. “We also know that male veterans die five years earlier than most female veterans. So, therefore, we want them to be a part in their own care. “

Mental health officials told News 3 the Hampton VA is a one-stop shop for services, with all veterans’ providers being interconnected.

“We do have services triggered just for men, which is military sexual trauma,” Dr. Roopam Sood-Khandpur, Hampton VA Medical Center’s Assistant Chief of Mental Health and Behavioral Services said. “For men, that is a topic that can be very difficult to share outside of their peers, and if they know they're not alone, it becomes easier to talk about that.”

“There is no wrong emotion.” Dr. Sood-Khandpur added. “Every motion and emotion is acceptable.”

The medical center also told News 3 they’re directly monitoring 99 veterans at high risk for suicide.

“We provide individual case management for those veterans, making sure they are connected to mental health services [and] making sure they have a safety plan in place,” Shaconda Griffin, Hampton VA Medical Center’s Suicide Prevention Program Manager said. “Since veterans have served, it's important that they engage in the mental health community in a meaningful way.”

It’s all geared towards making sure those like Richardson continue to prosper.

“You have people who count on you, and if you went out and served your country, that's what the VA is here to help you [with],” Dr. Alexander said.

With a goal of having veterans not shying away of asking for help.

“Some of us can try and take and still hold onto our macho-ism, our pride,” Richardson said. “I think the most prideful thing is asking for help.”

The Hampton VA Medical Center offers a variety of different resources for mental health and suicide prevention.

LINK: Hampton VA Medical Center Facebook Page

There’s also the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line that can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (press 1).

LINK: Hampton VA Medical Center Twitter Page

Movember officials told News 3 they want to reduce the annual suicide rate for men, along with other partners, by 25% by 2030.

For the campaign, an alternative way of raising awareness from growing facial hair is the 60-mile challenge. According to Movember, this includes walking, running or biking 60 miles during the month, which represents the 60 men lost every hour to suicide in the U.S.