Michigan veterans advocate for suicide prevention

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Service members in Michigan are speaking up about veteran suicide prevention and pushing lawmakers to enforce change.

They may have left the battlefield behind, but the fight to stay alive doesn’t end for service members suffering from the mental and physical scars of combat; there are often greater risks that come with returning to civilian life. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that suicide rates among veterans are almost 57% higher than those of non-veterans.

Former Army officer Anton Harb Jr. is the survivor of a suicide attempt and a battle with cancer caused by burn pits he was exposed to on deployment. He’s shared his struggle with lawmakers like Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan), asking for their help to break down the obstacles that keep veterans from recovery.

“That is where the real work comes in, I think,” he said. “Between not only our policymakers but our community as well.”

For Harb, one of those obstacles is the classification of marijuana, a substance many veterans rely on for PTSD relief, as a Schedule I narcotic. Congresswoman Slotkin said she’s working to make that change, but it will take some time.

“I’ve co-sponsored a bill, especially after Michigan legalized to remove it, and move it down the chain, and basically have it be the same thing as alcohol,” she said. “But until that happens, the VA is in a very tough spot.”

In his position as spokesperson for U.S. VA Research and Development, Combat veteran Stephen Cochran said he uses his experience as a veteran to help guide lawmakers in a productive direction when it comes to amending laws and policies that impact service members.

Cochran also helps to provide his fellow vets with the support they need as they return to civilian life — a transition that makes the struggle for mental health even more difficult.

“It’s going back into that everyday life that you don’t feel you have the same worth that you had when you were in uniform,” he said.

Cochran sat alongside Harb at a roundtable discussion with Congresswoman Slotkin and other leaders to discuss the steps that need to be taken at the state and federal level to lower rates of veteran suicide. Both Cochran and Harb are hopeful about the progress made with one conversation, but they say the action that follows will lead to saving lives.

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