Metro-East News

Lawmakers to host hearing in Belleville on veterans suicide

State Reps. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea and Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, are inviting veterans and their families to meet with members of the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide on Monday in Belleville.

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Liberal Arts Theater, inside the Liberal Arts Complex Room 1370 at Southwestern Illinois College, 2500 Carlyle Ave., Belleville.

Costello, Hoffman and Kifowit sponsored legislation creating a Task Force on Veteran Suicide. The task force has already met once in Springfield and is now meeting at locations across the state to allow veterans and those affected by veterans’ suicide to personally share their views. The full list of task force members and the upcoming meetings scheduled across the state are available at http://illinoisjoining

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Kifowit’s full-time constituent service office by calling 217-782-8028, Costello’s full-time constituent service office at 618-282-7284, or Hoffman’s full-time constituent service at618-394-2211.

Suicide among military veterans has grown into a full-fledged public health crisis.

At least 22 military veterans a day take their lives, at a rate at least 50 percent higher than for non-veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

It was that stark statistic — nearly two dozen veterans taking their own lives each day, day after day — that convinced State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, to join with fellow veterans from the Illinois General Assembly to launch the task force, which is holding a series of meetings this spring at community colleges from one end of Illinois to the other.

“What we’re finding from the committee meetings so far is a) there is a lot of knowledge out there; and b) there are a lot of resources to help,” Cullerton said. “And c) nobody knows how to get it.”

Another major issue, Cullerton said, “Letting families know how they can get help. Because a lot of times if you’re the one contemplating (suicide), you’re not the one to seek out help. But if people see you there, we really want to make sure the families know how to reach out to get you the help you need.”

A February 2015 analysis published in the February issue of the Annals of Epidemiology, included all 1,282,074 veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The analysis matched military records with the National Death Index, which collects data on every U.S. death.

It tracked the veterans after service until the end of the 2009, finding a total of 1,868 suicides.

That equates to an annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans, or roughly 50 percent higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics.

A May 2014 study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine found that combat veterans are more likely to be plagued by suicidal thoughts, which are often linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and depression.

The same study also found that combat-related guilt may be a significant predictor of suicidal ideas and attempts by veterans with PTSD stemming from combat experiences.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000