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AUGUSTA (WGME) -- New data from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows a 17 percent increase in suicides among Maine's veterans.
"You kind of get a knot in your stomach," said Melissa Willette, Director of Communications for Maine's Bureau of Veteran Services.
She said jaws dropped this week when the VA released its annual report on veteran suicides.
The most recent data is from 2017 and shows more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide, which is about 17 per day.
There were 48 in Maine, up from 29 in 2016.
"Maine is a rural state, so we can only guess that it's due to the number of firearms that are accessible," said Willette.
She said the BVS and several other organizations have been pushing education and awareness, making sure veterans have access to services, but a lag in the data makes it hard to know what's working.
"These numbers are two years old, so we're not gonna know if the efforts we've put in over the last year-and-a-half have really taken hold," Willette said.
Jenna Mehnert, the executive director of NAMI Maine, is less surprised by the new numbers because suicide rates have been on the rise in general.
"Those populations have a higher suicide rate, because asking for help is kind of counter-intuitive to what they're trained to do," Mehnert said.
There's no one solution, but Mehnert said one key is those closest to veterans, the family and friends they most often confide in. She said they should be trained in what to look out for, and how to talk about it.
"Often we're uncomfortable to take the step and that's what the person needs, someone to be a bridge to the other resources," she said.
With 75 percent of Maine veterans using a gun to end their life, Willette said the BVS is talking about a voluntary firearm safety plan.
"Maybe working with the sheriff's offices or police departments to temporarily house your firearm while you get the help that you need," Willette said.
Veterans can use the Veterans Crisis Hotline to talk or text with a qualified responder.