State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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For suicide prevention in military, PA relying on federal programs

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 13, 2014 1:40 PM

With recent data showing a spike in the suicide rate among young military veterans, Pennsylvania's National Guard commander is trying to assure state lawmakers the commonwealth's own veterans outreach programs can withstand a funding cut.

Gov. Corbett's proposed budget would reduce the current $2.6 million in state spending for veterans outreach services by about 13 percent, or $350,000.

"I'm wondering how that affects that outreach and what kinds of things are you doing to help that suicide rate," asked Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) at a Wednesday hearing with the state's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Adjutant General Wesley Craig said the reduction won't put suicide prevention programs at risk, because federally funded efforts are picking up the slack.

"We have a very aggressive program funded primarily through the federal government and executed locally here, a series of training that goes on - suicide awareness training, suicide intervention training," Craig said. The program began about two years ago, and since then, he said it's conducted about 150 requested suicide interventions for soldiers and airmen.

The state leans on other U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs services as well. "They have a very successful suicide intervention hotline that has experienced in about a year 800,000 calls. It's very well-staffed," Craig said.

Suicide rates are up nationally and statewide, according to recent Centers for Disease Control reports. But the suicide rate for veterans is still higher than for non-veterans, and a recent VA report showed a spike in the suicide rate for young men and women veterans between 2009 and 2011.

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