California should require that veteran suicides be reported, founders of a nonprofit organization said Tuesday at the Fresno veterans hospital during a statewide tour to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress among veterans.
An estimated 22 veterans die by suicide each day, said Mark Carter, co-founder of the Oakland-based Operation Wounded Minds. But while that statistic is already awful, the number of veteran suicides likely is much higher, he said.
Veteran suicide statistics are based on information gathered by local coroners, but not all states require coroners to check off a box that identifies military service of the deceased, Carter said.
California, Texas and Illinois do not report veteran suicides, and they have large veteran populations, Carter said.
"There's nothing really forcing accountability," said Operation Wounded Minds co-founder Dwayne Jones. "This needs to be mandatory reporting."
Operation Wounded Minds is working with the research firm EMC to develop technology for collecting data on veteran suicides, Jones said. It has sent letters to California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and will send a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown to ask that reporting be mandatory, he said.
A spokesman for Brown said Tuesday the office hadn't received a letter from the organization and couldn't comment.
The Fresno VA hospital has made suicide prevention a top priority, said Sheryl Grubb, a spokeswoman for the VA Central California Health Care System.
"We take it very seriously," Grubb said. "If someone comes in and needs to have an evaluation or is having suicidal ideations, we evaluate them right away."
Jones said Operation Wounded Minds was not in Fresno to "say what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong." The statewide week-long tour is intended to bring attention to post-traumatic stress among veterans and greater understanding and support for the veterans and their families.
"We're stunned that you're not hearing that this is PTS awareness month," Jones said. Friday is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness day. PTSD is an anxiety disorder resulting from traumatic events, such as war-related combat stress.
Jones and Carter said they hope their blue tour bus, emblazoned with "Put an end to the stigma of PTS," grabs attention.
Jones, who describes himself on the Operation Wounded Minds website as a "serial entrepreneur" who helped start several companies, said he wants to help remove the stigma attached to post-traumatic stress so people will be more inclined to seek treatment.
Carter began advocating for veterans because of his son, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, who is a Medal of Honor recipient. His son has spoken openly about his own post-traumatic stress.
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