EL PASO COUNTY — An annual report by the El Paso County Coroner's Office is revealing a troubling trend in the county.
El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly released the 19-page report that outlines the causes of more than 1,400 cases involving sudden, unexpected, or non-natural deaths. While suicides are down countywide — numbers are up among the military population.
Of the county's 176 deaths by suicide in 2021, 53 were identified as active duty and military veterans. That's a 10 percent increase from last year.
"I went through my own thing. I live with PTSD, and I was medically discharged," said Rodgers Johnson, Mount Carmel Veterans Services Center.
After 12 years of serving his country, Johnson is now serving his fellow veterans.
"By having great people around me, I was able to go to school, get a master's, and become a counselor," said Johnson.
One more resource that could help save a life — especially now with the increase in deaths by suicides.
"There are so many factors. There is PTSD, combat, relationship and financial issues, people transitioning out of the military," said Johnson.
Which makes reaching out all the more important. He now manages a new program rolling out to make it easier — it is called the Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Program or Next Chapter.
The origin of the Next Chapter was Colorado Senate Bill 129 [leg.colorado.gov], which called for the creation of a program specifically to address suicide among veterans in El Paso County.
The program will be provided at no cost and range from therapy and counseling to finding employment and access to housing support. The program launched last week and is now serving clients.
"We've got counseling, budgeting classes, other departments here at Mt. Carmel," said Johnson.
Dr. Kelly says prevention is key to stop the troubling trend.
"Don't wait for them to exhibit the problems and challenges of depression. Reach out to them before, and make sure they're being surrounded by support," said Kelly.
Kelly says 80 percent of suicides last year were men.
"We have to figure out ways to cope, and change the culture from this is a sign of weakness to this is a sign of strength," said Kelly.
"When you really wrap your head around it- this is just El Paso County. How many others in Colorado are hurting, needing help," said Johnson.
To access services, veterans and their family members can make an appointment through the program website, www.NextChapterCo.org, or by calling 1-888-719-VETS. If you are a veteran in crisis, help is available now: Call 1-800-273-8255, then press 1. Or text 838255 for online chat support.