Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs introduced an initiative to address the state’s increasing veteran suicide rate Friday.
The initiative, called “Question Persuade Refer” or QPR, involves training people to understand signs of suicide in veterans and get them the help they need, DVA spokesperson Bill Clausius said. Of total suicides in Wisconsin in 2014, nearly 18 percent were veterans, Clausius said.
The initiative specifically targets people who work in close proximity to veterans like their family members, nursing home and veteran’s hospital employees, Clausius said. People can undergo a 90-minute training to learn QPR and will then be ready to identify veterans in need of assistance.
“We want to get people aware of what’s going on so that we have more of an understanding in removing the stigma associated with suicide,” Clausius said.
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QPR involves questioning veterans who appear to be contemplating suicide. The next step is to persuade the veteran to not commit suicide and the final step is to refer them to professional sources of help, Clausius said.
While the initiative has not yet taken hold at University of Wisconsin, Clausius said a campus environment would work well with QPR. John Bechtol, UW Assistant Dean of Students for Veterans Affairs, said UW already makes a “concerted effort” to coordinate mental health assistance for student veterans.
Bechtol said UW works with University Health Services, Veteran Center and Veterans Affairs Hospital to meet student veterans’ needs. UHS counselors consistently interact with student veterans and refer them to higher level care if they need it. UW Veterans Affairs also maintains contact with student veterans, Bechtol said.
“We make contact as soon as they’re admitted and try to build rapport with them and keep open and honest communication,” Bechtol said.
Clausis said suicide rates were highest among veterans aged between 18 and 29 in 2014. There are currently over 400,000 veterans living in Wisconsin.
Aside from UHS counseling services, UW Veterans Affairs and UW’s student veterans organization provide a space for student veterans to come in and talk to others like themselves if they need to, Bechtol said.
Clausius said the initiative is still in its early stages but is already working in collaboration with a number of Wisconsin organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Veterans Affairs Hospital in Madison and Safe Communities of Dane County. The long-term goal of the initiative is to bring suicides down to zero in Wisconsin.