We love our veterans here in Central Texas and are eternally grateful for their service and sacrifice. When our soldiers give so much to serve us, we've got to serve them and make sure they stay happy and healthy when they get home.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and though suicide is a grim topic to discuss, it's one we have to face in order to serve those who've served. That's exactly what the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System hopes to achieve this month with two great events to raise awareness of the challenges veterans face and the people and resources there to help them.

The CTVHCS will team with the Waco VA Regional Office and Backyard BBQ in Waco Saturday, September 14 for a #BeThere suicide prevention event featuring classic cars, live music, food, drink, and booths with valuable information for our service members both past and present. The event is free to attend and will run from 11 AM to 5 PM at Backyard BBQ, 511 South 8th Street in Waco.

Statistics show that 20 veterans and service members take their own lives every day. Of those 20, 14 are not enrolled with the VA for healthcare. A focus of the Waco #BeThere event will be Finding the 14 not already established in care at VA and introducing them to free and underutilized activities to improve community connectedness and decrease isolation.

“We are not only guided by the statistics, but also the veterans we see each and every day in Central Texas,” said Michael L. Kiefer, Director of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System. “This year, we continue our commitment to find the 14 veterans who are not signed up with VA for their health care before they take their own lives. It’s up to each of us to find those who need support—a simple phone call, a visit, or encouraging a Veteran to sign up for VA health care.”

On Wednesday, September 25, the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple will host the 7th Annual Suicide Stand Down from 10 AM to 2 PM. The Stand Down event will featured free demonstrations and information about travel, fishing, camping, music, gardening and a variety of other activities for veterans and their families. Experts will provide information about healthy lifestyle skills, crisis management tools, and suicide prevention. The event is free and open to the public.

In August 2016, VA released a national suicide data report, Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans, 2001–2014. The report was the most comprehensive analysis of Veteran suicide rates in the United States, examining more than 55 million records from 1979 to 2014. The startling data indicated:

An average of 20 Veterans and service members died from suicide each day; 6 of the 20 were users of VA health services in 2013 or 2014.

Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults, while Veterans constituted 8.5% of the US population.

Approximately 67% of all Veteran deaths from suicide were the result of firearm injuries.

If you're a veteran struggling with thoughts of self-harm or in need of help, please contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also send a text message to 838255, or chat with someone at veteranscrisisline.net.