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State funded program mentors El Paso veterans

By Crystal Price
EL PASO, Texas -- The Department of Veterans Affairs recently released a report that shows suicides among young veterans just getting out of the military are three times higher than active-duty soldiers.

The report shows that in 2011 the annual suicide rate for young veterans was 80 for every 100,000 of the population. In 2009, 46 out of 100,000 committed suicide.

Suicide rates among Army soldiers peaked in 2012 with 185.

However, the overall suicide rate for active-duty soldiers stayed the same at 22 per 100,000 from 2009-2011.  

Donna Nesbit, suicide prevention coordinator at the El Paso VA Health Care System, said one contributing factor to the rise in young suicides is due to a rising number of young veterans coming out of the military.

"It's difficult to make that transition," Nesbit said. "It adds up to a great amount of difficulty. There are financial stresses, relationship issues and the experiences that they may have had during their active duty service."

Nesbit said they have seen a decrease in suicide rates among all veterans engaged in mental care at the VA.

Since 2007 they've been working to improve their suicide prevention program.

"Part of the program is to pay closer attention, to track suicide data so that we can provide more effective treatments and provide programs that will impact the suicide rate," Nesbit said.

Another active program geared toward helping veterans cope is the Military Veteran Peer Network.

The Military Veteran Peer Network was launched in 2009 and is funded through a state grant.

The purpose of the program is help veterans in the community who are most at risk.

The program assists at least 200 veterans per year and currently has more than a dozen mentors.

Nichelle Gautier is one of the the network's dedicated volunteers.

The retired master sergeant is all too familiar with post-traumatic stress as both she and he husband suffered from it.

"It's not good, it's not a good feeling because at the end of the day I was more so the provider of my family, and I never had the chance to deal with my own PTSD issues," Gautier said.

Now that Gautier is retired from the Army, she's serving as a mentor for the Military Veteran Peer Network.

"It helps as far as therapy for me goes," Gautier said. "If I could have served, til God knows when I would have. But I wanted to be able to give back so that they know that they're not alone."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

For more information, go to their website at



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