By Robert F. McLaughlin
Over the past several years, there has been a growing national conversation around the issue of veteran suicide. Veterans are twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to die by suicide. El Paso County lost more than one veteran a week in 2021, placing our veteran suicide rate at one of the highest in the country. Of the 176 deaths by suicide in El Paso County in 2021, 53 were veterans and active-duty military. That is a 10 percent increase from 2020.
While the national conversation has extended to El Paso County and the Pikes Peak region — with its multiple military installations and abundant retiree population — it’s time for us to transition that conversation to action, and from action to impact.
Our veterans have stepped up for generations to defend our country. At Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, we see veterans from all eras — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, even a few who remain from World War II. Our responsibility to them did not end when their service was completed or when they returned to civilian life.
While Mt. Carmel supports veterans with needs like housing and food insecurity, our obligation also extends to health and wellness services. It is past time to turn our collective attention toward the mental health issues our veterans face.
Through Mt. Carmel’s Health and Wellness department, veterans, their spouses, and family members have access to confidential counseling services at no out-of-pocket cost. We offer alternative therapies and behavioral, physical and spiritual health programs.
The Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center provides a counseling team, offering support and treatment services for depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship struggles, PTSD and life transitions. Treatment is provided by licensed professionals, prelicensure therapists, and graduate interns supervised by an on-site Licensed Professional Counselor. All our clinicians are trained and experienced in providing military-specific services.
The services provided at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center are critical, but we cannot solve this problem alone.
The services provided at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center are critical, but we cannot solve this problem alone. We know that mental health treatment is challenging to navigate. We know it is even more difficult for our veterans. Our Colorado policymakers have addressed shortcomings, but we still see gaps. The result is that despite our discussion and our action, the suicide rate hasn’t declined.
Undoubtedly, the problem is complex. The solution doesn’t have to be.
Our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues care deeply for veterans; many are veterans. The only way to solve the veteran suicide problem in our community is to solve it as a community. We are responsible to the people who served our country and have a duty to our fellow man. Together, we can begin a movement that will make a difference.
Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center is partnering with the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration and UCHealth in a new collaboration called Next Chapter, a grant-funded community wellness collaborative serving veterans and their families. The partnership is funded through Colorado SB-129, which required the Colorado State Department of Human Services to establish a veteran suicide prevention pilot program to reduce the suicide rate and suicidal ideation among veterans by providing no-cost, stigma-free, confidential behavioral health treatment for up to 700 veterans and their families in El Paso County.
As we’ve partnered with local organizations in this effort, such as Silver Key Senior Services and NAMI Colorado Springs, we’ve seen amazing things begin to happen. We’ve seen nonprofits working together towards a common goal. We’ve seen veterans volunteer to spread the message and share their stories. We’ve seen veterans reach out and ask for help, and we’ve dared to hope that more will do the same.
The stigma of seeking help has taken too many of our veteran brothers and sisters. We are at a crossroads, a crucial moment in El Paso County, where we can make a difference. That’s why Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center and Next Chapter have partnered with individuals and organizations in El Paso County to support our veterans and their families. Please join us. We’re in this together to save lives!
Robert F. McLaughlin is the executive director of Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center. Col. (Ret.) McLaughlin served as the garrison commander of Fort Carson, chief of staff, U.S. FORCES-Afghanistan, and battalion task force commander as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, he retired and helped found Mt. Carmel.