PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Suicide is considered an ever-growing problem among military veterans.
An estimated 22 vets take their lives each day. It’s why federal and state lawmakers joined a panel discussion Thursday in northeastern Pennsylvania to seek solutions. Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller was there for the key takeaways.
“This is a catastrophe. We need to do something better,” said Michael Wargo of Lehighton.
He and his wife, Sally, lost their 36-year-old Army veteran son Michael in 2013 not on the battlefield, but to a personal battle he was fighting at home. Mrs. Wargo said of her son’s suicide, “When Michael died, it was so difficult to find the proof that he suffered from PTSD.”
The Wargos joined lawmakers and local leaders at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center for a roundtable discussion on veteran suicide: the third such panel discussion in a series being held statewide in Pennsylvania.
“These vets are reluctant to reach out,” said State Senator Mike Regan (R-31st) of Cumberland/York Counties.
He hosts the roundtable discussions. “It’s so important, big issue. Very complex issue. Very convoluted issue but we’re trying very hard to try to find a way to save lives,” said Sen. Regan.
One idea is to expand Veterans Treatment Court. Lackawanna County is among only 23 of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties with one. Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Barrasse who joined the panel discussion said, “They’re still held accountable for their actions, the crime that they committed. They’re held accountable. However, we’re looking at what’s the underlying problem here and how can we change that behavior. Not just how the person gets held accountable.”
One of the biggest concerns to help veterans who struggle is to provide them with easily accessible resources. One way the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is trying to achieve that is through a proposal called VetConnect.
Still in the planning stages, it would serve as a database for vets to access those valuable resources. DMVA Director of Programs, Initiatives, Reintegration & Outreach Joel Mutschler said, “Whether it’s dealing with PTSD issues, homelessness, whatever the case may be, we want to educate our veteran service offices.”
“Phenomenal idea,” said Monroe County Veterans Affairs Director Lisa Kaye who is all-in for a coordinated system to help vets. “Because a lot of time there’s so much involved in our county that we’re just not aware of,” she said.
It’s these discussions that could unlock the key to prevent tragedies like Army Veteran Michael Wargo. “We need to talk about it. We need to make game plans. We need to see what works and what doesn’t work. What we’re doing is obviously not working,” said Mr. Wargo.
In the meantime, resources are available for veterans who are struggling or in crisis.