There are alarming new numbers about suicide rates among younger veterans. A new report issued by the New York State Health Foundation says rates for those 18 to 34 has more than “doubled” in the state.
7 Eyewitness News met with a war veteran who leads a counseling program at the Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York.
“You feel like you are living on the other side of a pane of glass, like you’re watching everyone around you,” reflected Alyssa Vasquez, program manger, Veterans One-stop Center of WNY.
Vasquez describes what it feels like after coming home from war. She was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan and served more than 13 years in the Army.
Returning veterans are finding a whole new battleground as they transition back into civilian life.
“I wanted nothing to do with the military life. I didn't want to hang out with other veterans. I didn't want to wear a military hat. I didn't want to tell anybody. I just wanted to be completely removed from it,” Vasquez recalled.
A report from the New York State Foundation found that although veteran suicide rates are lower in New York than the rest of the U.S. There is a “concerning trend” as the rate for younger veterans, 18 to 34 years of age, doubled between 2005 and 2017 in the state.
Vasquez is not surprised by the report. She says many young veterans return from war feeling isolated, some suffering from post traumatic stress. Vasquez says some turn to substance abuse and unfortunately some consider death by suicide.
“Sometimes whenever they leave the military, they can feel that a huge chunk of that former life that they once loved is now missing,” explained Vasquez.
Vasquez serves as a program manger for the Veterans One-stop Program, 'We are Dwyer', named after 31-year-old PCF Joseph Dwyer, who died in 2008 after suffering from PTSD.
“Without getting morbid - whenever you’re in a situation like that, you really do have to embrace the fact that death is a very real thing. Whenever you’ve seen that or you’ve been able to actually accept that as a truth. It changes your whole world view,” Vasquez explains.
Vasquez says she is starting to see an increase number of younger veterans engage in the program for help.
“We have this notion that it's selfish or wrong to take care of themselves, so i have to try to break down that mental barrier and just let them know - you are absolutely worth taking care of,” remarked Vasquez.
Vasquez joined Veterans One-stop CEO, Chuck Marra, this week in Albany to lobby, asking for state funding for the ‘We are Dwyer Program’.
Approximately $185,000 is needed for each program provided in both Erie and Niagara counties.
Vasquez says the program has a “crucial impact” and has served more than 3,000 veterans since it was started several years ago in both counties.
Vasquez and Marra met with state Senators Tim Kennedy, Rob Ortt and others legislative members.
They discussed the Dwyer Program for Ortt’s district sharing success stories from 2019 and plans for 2020.
Senator Kennedy also voiced his support for reinstating the funding and helping to expand the “life saving” program.
Jillian Johnson, marketing and development manager for Veteran’s One-stop, described the Albany meeting with lawmakers as a “bi-partisan effort” for “New York’s commitment” to veterans and veterans families.
“The legislators that we heard from all echoed that they were all committed to fighting to reinstate the funding as well as increasing it, with the ultimate goal being to get it written into the Executive Budget,” wrote Johnson.