Stopping the suicides: Where vets can go for help

By Kelly McCarthy

November 12, 2013 Updated Nov 12, 2013 at 6:24 PM EST

Endicott, NY (WBNG Binghamton) After Barbara Beebe's son returned from a year deployment in Afghanistan, his home life was never the same.

"I said, hey Bruce, I can see it," said Barbara Beebe of Endicott, "I think you need help, so we need to tell that to our veterans. If you need help go get it."

In January, Bruce committed suicide. He was 46-years-old and served more than 21 years in the Air Force and Army National Guard.

"I don't want to have any other mothers in my position and feeling my heart, what it feels, or my husband," Beebe said.

Beebe wants to see other struggling veterans do something her son did not. She is advocating for vets to take advantage of the programs offered by the VA Medical Center and Vet Centers in every community.

"I think part of it is still the fact that mental illness remains a major stigma nationally," said Suicide Prevention Coordinator of the Syracuse VA Medical Center Sabah Altheblah. "Some veterans may be reluctant because they haven't even reached out to the VA Medical Center."

A report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs said on average, 22 veterans die from suicide every day. Beebe took her story to the New York State Assembly Joint Committees on Veteran's Affairs and Mental Health in October. There she cried out for continued funding for Veteran Administration services.

"We are always worried about resources," said (D) NYS 123rd Assembly, Donna Lupardo, "The state has gone through a tough economic time and we're trying to do more with less. This is not one of the places we're trying to scrimp."

A bill passed the State Assembly in May that improved access to online support.

"Requires the Division of Veterans Affairs to improve their website," Lupardo said, "With more resources about mental health issues, chemical dependency, as well as physical disabilities."

Lupardo's also pushing for a state-wide smart phone app. She used the state of Tennessee as an example, Tennessee launched an app called "Guard Your Buddy," for veterans and families of returning vets.

"People can have right on their phone the ability to hit a button and get somebody on the phone right away," Lupardo said, "Especially if they're feeling vulnerable or having suicidal thoughts."

The VA Medical Center said the more hi-tech options available, the more veterans may open up to getting help. They have a 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line, and even a texting or Skype option for vets to use. But even with all the technology options available, peer counseling is one of the most effective.

"But I also think in the veteran population," Altheblah said, "Knowing that other veterans can discuss their struggles and how they've overcome those obstacles is very therapeutic."

Altheblah said their biggest challenge is making Vets and their families aware of all the services. The VA looks to attend at least five community outreach events a month to help spread the word.

"It doesn't have to be a mental health care field that we go out and speak to," Altheblah said, "It can be any community outreach forum."

So that other families can be saved from the heartache the Beebe's feel every day.

"It's the veteran who has to get there and say I need that help, and the only way they're going to realize it is it they see it," Beebe said.