Trainers tackle veteran-suicide risk

Free suicide-prevention training for people who work with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will be offered Jan. 28-29 in Medford.

Provided by the nonprofit ColumbiaCare Services Inc., the workshop, known as "Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training," prepares professionals and other community providers to conduct suicide "first aid" to veterans, according to Gary McConahay, clinical director of ColumbiaCare in Medford, as well as director of its Center for Suicide Prevention located at 3587 Heathrow Way in Medford.

"The U.S. Army loses more soldiers to suicide than to enemy action, but it is preventale," said McConahay, who has a doctorate in psychology. "We need trained caregivers who can recognize suicide risk and who know exactly what to say and do to keep someone safe until they get connected to ongoing sources of help."

The focus of the workshop is for professionals who have not had the training, he said, while noting that concerned family members of returning veterans also are welcome if there is room. The workshop is open for up to 30 participants, he said.

The training is used by both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

During the workshop, participants will be trained to recognize and assess the potential risk of suicide, he said. They also will be equipped with intervention skills to keep the person safe until the appropriate level of ongoing help can be provided, he added.

"I've worked with the Army over the years — it used to be the Army's suicide rates were far below the national average," he said. "Now the suicide rates in the Army are higher than our national average."

Meanwhile, the suicide rate among Oregon veterans remains almost double the rate of the general population, at a little more than 44 per 100,000, the center reports. Suicide ranks as the second-leading cause of death among male veterans younger than 45, according to the center.

In addition to Medford, ColumbiaCare is offering the free training in Bend and Portland.

The workshop is being offered in advance of the expected return this spring of some 3,000 members of Oregon Army National Guard from the 41st Infantry Combat Brigade. That includes 600 citizen-soldiers of the Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry, headquartered in Ashland, which arrived in Iraq last July to provide security for convoys.

The training is being offered because of the need, said veteran Bob Beckett, ColumbiaCare's executive director.

"Since becoming aware of the abominable statistics around suicide amongst veterans, it has become apparent that saving lives must be the first step and top priority," he stressed.

"Although it is understandable that the experience of war has a negative psychological affect, we find it absolutely unacceptable that the very people who have made it home safely after volunteering to sacrifice their lives overseas end up losing their life — on our own soil at their own hands," he added.

Board treasurer Bruce Bartow, a combat veteran, agreed.

"Having several veterans on our board and being an organization that has the resources and professional expertise to intervene has made this an obvious role for us to play," he said. "Offering free training to save the lives of our soldiers is our way of expressing our gratitude and showing concern."

In addition to the training, ColumbiaCare provides other services, such as short-term crisis resolution and long-term residential housing.

To register for the training, visit and click on the ASIST registration box on the right side of the page.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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