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Altoona VA medical center raising awareness for veteran suicide prevention

Outside of the parking garage at the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center in Altoona, PA.
Sydney Roach
The James E. Van Zandt Medical Center has an urgent care clinic open 24/7 for veterans in crisis.

The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center, which is based in Altoona and serves 14 counties in central Pennsylvania, is highlighting its resources during National Suicide Prevention Month.

The center held its first suicide prevention walk Thursday for staff. Kate Gavin, the suicide prevention task force coordinator, said the hope is to expand the walk to the community in upcoming years to provide veterans more information on what resources are available.

“I think that our veterans are very used to putting other people first - the mission ahead of what their needs are. And whenever you talk with a lot of our vets, that's what they're really trained to do in the military and in their lives,” Gavin said. “It might be one of the hardest things that they ever do in their life is to reach out, but we know that our veterans can do hard things.”

James E. Van Zandt has an urgent care clinic open 24/7. Gavin said veterans can also go to local hospitals for help or call the 988 hotline and press 1.

“Everyone can be a part of the solution when it comes to reducing suicide. You know, just checking in with veterans, showing up for people and really making it more common for people to talk about their mental health struggles,” Gavin said.

Active-duty military suicides are on the rise this year, according to a recent Pentagon report. The overall number went up 25% in the first 3 months of this year compared to last year.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.