It’s estimated that an average of 20 veterans take their lives each day in the United States. Most of those are veterans who don’t have contact with VA in the months leading to their suicide, meaning outreach efforts could save the lives of veterans.

Kent Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, recently selected Paulette Risher, chief executive officer for Still Serving Veterans and a retired Army major general, to lead the new Task Force on Veterans’ Suicides. The task force will study ways to reduce veterans suicide as well as the causes of suicides among returning Alabama veterans. The task force will then make recommendations to the Legislature.

“I am extremely honored to be selected to serve in this position. I am so thankful to Governor Ivey and our Legislature for recognizing the importance and urgency of addressing Veteran suicides among Alabama’s large Veteran population. It is heartbreaking to think that a service member can risk their life in service to the nation only to come home and take their own life,” General Risher said.

“I believe that the Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide will help us better understand the risks, contributing factors, and demographics to develop concrete actions which not just our legislators and State officials, but our local community leaders can implement to turn the tide on Veteran suicide,” Risher continued. “Through partnership, collaboration, and mutual service to Veterans we can make a difference.”

Rep. Neil Rafferty submitted the House resolution to create the task force. House Joint Resolution 151 noted that the veteran suicide rate in Alabama was 60 percent higher than the rate for civilians and 9 percent higher than other southern states. More than 16 percent of all suicide deaths in Alabama are veterans.

“Alabama ranks 2nd in the nation for veteran suicides in the country. This devastating statistic has a particularly personal effect because of the friends and fellow Marines we have lost,” Rafferty said. “The task force aims to bridge the gaps among multiple agencies and community stakeholders to have a coordinated evidence-based and community-informed strategy to more effectively address the crisis of veteran suicide in the state.”

In addition to Risher, the task force will have one representative or veteran appointed by each of the following: the governor, Speaker of the House, Minority Leader of the House, president of the Senate, Senate Minority Leader, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, State Health Officer, and Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources.