South Carolina agencies battle increase in suicides among active military members

South Carolina News

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina leaders are responding to a rise in suicides among active military members.

The Army’s active-duty forces saw a 46% increase in suicides last quarter compared to the same time frame last year, according to the latest Pentagon report. Leaders tell News13, there are many contributing factors outside of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are even more resources to help.

“Once we come into a soldier’s life, we don’t go away,” Chuck Hooks said. Hooks, who is from Conway, enlisted in the U.S. Army out of high school.

Hooks who was medically retired in 1996, still spends his days and nights on the battlefield of surviving mental health. “My main goal is to make sure on the next day that that veteran or that service member is still alive,” Hooks said.

Over the last four years, Hooks has served with the American Military Family Got Your Six, a non-profit organization working to prevent deaths by suicide.

“It’s alarming whether it’s an active duty or Veteran – especially if it’s active-duty because it’s showing a breakdown in the system,” Hooks said.

The South Carolina Department of Veterans’ Affairs (SCDVA) and The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) are working with Governor Henry McMaster to combat the issue. The initiative, called South Carolina Governor’s Challenge, was announced in September to offer more resources to Veterans and active-duty members across the state.

An effort the SCDVA says will start with better screening methods.

“The implementation has started already in DMH and [clinics] across the state. We will expand that over the next year into private health care,” secretary William Grimsley said.

Jennifer Butler who Grimsley said spearheaded the joint effort said there are multiple factors behind the increase, including the pandemic.

“Economic insecurity, racial justice issues, societal discord, and natural disasters. And when you think about our service members they’re deployed to handle a lot of these things,” Butler said.

And when the load gets too heavy Hooks travels from state to state to save a life.

“Just because I don’t wear a uniform anymore – you know I still protect my brothers and sisters,” Hooks said.

Butler said knowing the signs is critical in preventing suicides. Those signs include a change in behavior, anxiousness, and even anger.

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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