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Next Chapter program aims to prevent veteran suicide in El Paso County

Posted at 11:16 PM, Oct 30, 2022

EL PASO COUNTY — A three-year pilot program to help prevent veteran suicide in El Paso County has already helped nearly 120 local veterans. The program is called Next chapter, and it launched in July of this year.

It’s thanks to a three-year grant provided by the state of Colorado after Senate Bill 129 was passed in the legislative session in 2021.

UCHealth is the lead agency on the state grant, and Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center is a supporting organization, along with NAMI. All are joining forces to prevent the high number of veteran suicides locally.

“I have a personal history of mental health situations both on active duty and since I retired. So I feel a strong connection to the suicide prevention goals with Next Chapter,” said Sean Sindler.

Sindler is a U.S. Airforce veteran who served for 20 years and retired in 2019. He told News5 that his mother passed away in 2016, and he believes he didn’t take the time to grieve appropriately.

“In 2016 towards the end, I started to have some really high high’s and then in 2017, I started to have really low low’s, where I was contemplating suicide and actually took some steps in that direction,” said Sindler.

When he got out of the military, he sought help from Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center.

“I feel wonderful these days. I think I'm stronger now than I was then. But the point is, I know what it's like to be at your lowest, and so suicide might seem like the best solution when in reality, you just need somebody to talk to,” said Sindler.

Sindler’s own personal experience is why he wants to tell other veterans that it’s okay to seek help through a program like this.

Damian McCabe is the director of behavioral health in military affairs for UCHealth, and he says that the goals at Next Chapter are starting the conversation about veteran suicide in our community, removing barriers to accessing care and affording it, and reducing the number of suicides.

“I think most people now as this conversation grows are aware that El Paso County in Colorado is one of the highest veteran suicide rates in the nation, and it has been that way in the past three or four years,” said McCabe. “We have seen the takeoff and the need, and we've been able to enroll folks pretty much everybody has asked for services we've been able to enroll, there really are no barriers.”

McCabe says all the involved partners knew they needed to come to the challenge quickly in helping local veterans.

“So it's a very tough problem to get our arms around, a tough problem to put resources against, and ultimately finance and the resources we need to change that high veteran suicide rate,” said McCabe.

The program provides services at no cost like therapy, counseling, employment and access to housing support. This will help up to 700 veterans and their families. Plus the Next Chapter team are all veterans helping other veterans write their next chapter.

“I love that they use the name Next Chapter, because I think that’s a big thing veterans think about. They know about their chapter in the military service, but they’re not quite sure what the next chapter post-military is going to be, and sometimes that’s tough,” said Sindler. “I feel like there is a next chapter. You may think that maybe there's not, but there is and you get the opportunity to write it yourself, which is great.”

In the future, services will be expanding to Teller County. McCabe also said, once the pilot program is finished in El Paso County, they hope to see this program expanded to other counties in Colorado.

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