COLUMBIA, S.C. — A mental health summit to fight suicide should spark an improvement in care for South Carolina military veterans by boosting communication among caregivers and medical specialists, an organizer said Wednesday.
“We are hoping to get the ball rolling,” Dorn Veterans Affairs psychiatrist Dr. Oladipo Kukoyi said. “We’re hoping this is the beginning of making a difference.”
VA officials estimate that about 20 military veterans commit suicide every day across the country.
“This is a sad statistic and we want to get it down,” said Kukoyi. The physician said he thinks the conference will increase communication among federal, state and private groups that want to prevent suicides but may not know what others are doing.
Kukoyi is the chief of mental health services for the Dorn Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Columbia.
He said he hoped those attending the sessions can start to work together to help military veterans integrate into their community and battle the feelings of isolation that can feed suicidal thoughts.
“As a community, we need to do more to engage those who need assistance,” the physician said. “This is a problem for the military veterans, but it is also a societal problem. We must connect through the community.”
The daylong conference brought together medical, military, government and private experts and specialists to seek ways to improve cooperation on mental health and anti-suicide efforts.
Representatives from several agencies offered brief introductions into their work, such as informational classes, counseling, or group support sessions. The attendees planned on forming smaller groups to discuss their efforts and come up with plans for forging partnerships, Kukoyi said.
The groups included the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; South Carolina Licensed Professional Counselors; the Mid-Carolina chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness; the South Carolina Veterans Policy Academy; the South Carolina National Guard and the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Jackson.
Kukoyi says the conference came about after the Obama administration announced a plan last year to help veterans deal with post-traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues and to reduce suicides by holding such conferences.
Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Scott Casimiro of Columbia said he came to the conference to offer whatever assistance he might be able to provide to the caregivers.
The 26 year-old was deployed to Afghanistan three times, and came home severely wounded after his stints in the infantry and as a machine-gunner, he said.
“I battle every day with PTSD,” said Casimiro, who said he hopes to go back to college and help other veterans at the same time. “Every day, I hope I can make a difference.”