COLORADO SPRINGS — The state of Colorado is now leading an effort to prevent military and veteran suicide after state lawmakers passed a bill this session.
SB-129 will create a veteran suicide prevention pilot program. The state department of human services will provide state funds to counties, so in turn, they can provide no-cost behavioral health treatment for up to 700 veterans and their families.
While El Paso County is such a large military town, the bill is expected to serve hundreds of local veterans.
"We believe it's important to prevent veteran suicide, especially in this region, where there's so many military, so many veterans," said Robert McLaughlin, the chief operating officer for Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center. "This bill is incredibly important because when you look at risk behaviors for veterans, like addictive behaviors, health, domestic violence, suicide -- all of those things might be a byproduct of their experience."
McLaughlin says in 2020, 55 service members and veterans died by suicide in El Paso County, and the following year was 57, which was an all-time high.
"We're committed to making sure we help provide hope where there might be hopelessness," said McLaughlin. "The bill that was passed will help strengthen the bond between state agencies and local nonprofits to help veterans and prevent suicide."
If Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center is chosen to receive the state funds, McLaughlin said it would go toward expanding services, increasing counseling capacity, increasing supportive services, and most importantly, outreach.
For those who've served in the military, veteran suicide is a topic that hits close to home.
"If you've spent any amount of time in the military, you're more than likely going to have to interact with somebody who's contemplating suicide or unfortunately carried it," said Timothy Gore, who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years. "As a drill sergeant, I had more than a couple soldiers who have threatened suicide, and one went ahead and carried it out. That stuck with me all my life."
State funding will be available before the end of the year.
"There's a lot more that needs to be done, but I think this is a great first step," said Gore. "I didn't realize how common it was, but it happens more often than what the public thinks."
According to Duane France, the director of veterans services at the Family Care Center, the bill will identify a single organization in the community, who will be the primary manager of the pilot program. That organization will work closely with local partners to provide the best care to veterans in El Paso County.
In a statement to KOAA News5, France says, "Increasing access to behavioral health providers that understand the unique needs of service members, veterans, and their family members is critical to addressing the ongoing challenge of military and veteran suicide in our community. As a member of a group of stakeholders that included the Family Care Center, UCCS Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic, the Denver University Sturm Center, the Mount Carmel Veteran Serviced Center and the Cohen Clinic, part of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, we were glad to be able to work with Senator Garcia and Representative Ortiz to make this an effective option for improving access to behavioral health care."
Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center provides help for things like finding a job, building resumes, rent or vehicle assistance, food insecurity, behavioral health counseling and more.
For more information about Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, click here.
For more information about SB-129, click here.