About 20 veterans commit suicide every day, and that’s too many for Dr. Lorraine Braswell.
“Reducing the suicide risk is on the front burner for the VA,” said Braswell, a clinical psychologist at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center who wears many hats – including that of trauma recovery director.
According to a VA report released in Sept. 2017, 14 of those 20 suicides were committed by veterans who were not under VA care. Getting veterans to get the care they need is a high priority for Braswell, who is also an Army veteran.
October was suicide prevention month.
“This is a public health problem,” said Braswell.
The first step for some people is calling the veterans suicide hotline, (800) 273-TALK (8255).
“Veterans are encouraged to call that number if they are struggling and need to talk to someone,” she said. “As soon as we talk to a vet and find out they are in crisis, the hospital will do a follow-up.”
Braswell’s interest in veterans’ mental health issues goes back many years.
She joined the Army when she was 17 as part of the Army Nurse Corps. She went to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing during the Vietnam era.
“Nurses were ready to serve,” she said of her colleagues.
She spent eight years in active duty, and then another 20-plus years in the Army Reserves. When she retired as a colonel, she was part of the 3297th U.S. Army Hospital, Army Reserve Medical Command, which was once at Fort Gordon.
After becoming a nurse, Braswell furthered her education at the University of Georgia.
“I took a psychology course, and it was a great fit,” she said.
She received her doctorate from the University of Georgia and started working an internship with the VA and Medical College of Georgia in the early 1990s. She has provided focused work in the area of sexual trauma as well as the traumas specifically related to veterans. Some veterans also have substance abuse problems because that’s how they’ve attempted to cope with their mental health-related issues.
“War creates a lot of difficulties,” she said.
And posttraumatic stress disorder is something many veterans face.
For those who receive help, their quality of life can be better than those who go without it, and that’s the reason the VA and Dr. Braswell want to get veterans into mental health programs.
Braswell said she likes working with veterans because she knows firsthand the sacrifices they go through to do their jobs and yet they are still willing to go through them.
“It’s an honor,” she said of treating veterans. “In some ways, they deserve more.”