PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Local experts say veterans need services beyond the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to deal with suicide.

“My job was to keep them in the fight mentally,” Col. Tom Stokes, a mental health counselor, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.

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Stokes served in Afghanistan with combat servicemen and women under fire.

“I traveled extensively, and my job was to meet them where they were in some very austere locations,” said Stokes.

Back in Pittsburgh, Stokes founded Operation Strong Mind to help veterans cope with the aftermath of military service.

It’s a serious problem.

Delano: “How many veterans commit suicide?”

Stokes: “The official answer that people use is about 20 a day.”

That’s over 7,000 a year.

A veteran and psychologist, Dr. Roger Brooke is director of Duquesne University’s military psychological services, which provides free help to veterans.

He supports congressional legislation to allow veterans to go beyond the VA for help.

“I think that there should be alternatives or supplements to what the VA offers,” said Brooke.

But some worry that vets using outside psychological services could lead to privatizing the entire VA system.

“I think that’s terribly misguided myself,” noted Brooke. “I am very much a supporter of the VA system.”

Col. Stokes agrees.

“I think there is always room for more partnership and more people of expertise to come together to really work together in a better way,” added Stokes.

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It starts with non-veterans recognizing the trauma that leads to suicide often emanates from our own reactions when vets come home, unlike earlier cultures.

“All these traditional cultures understood the psychological wounds of war and had rituals in which the civilian community would lead the processes of healing and bringing their warriors home,” noted Brooke.

Delano: “And we don’t do that.”

Brooker: “Of course, we don’t do that.”

“By interpreting the psychological wounds of war as a mental illness, we professionalize the healing,” Brooker said.

And that allows most of us to wash our hands of the problem.

That is exactly the wrong reaction, say military support groups.

Col. Stokes says, besides saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’ civilians should work harder to incorporate returning veterans into daily life through social groups, churches, and friendships.

Whether Congress provides funding or not, there are a lot of service organizations ready to help vets feeling suicidal.

Links can be found below:

VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System

Veterans Crisis Line

Military Crisis Line

Operation Strong Mind

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Duquesne University Military Services