Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed a letter to join a federal initiative for preventing suicides among U.S. service members, veterans and their families. JEREMY REDMON/jredmon@ajc.com

Georgia joins federal effort to fight suicides among troops, veterans

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday agreed to join a federal initiative for preventing suicides among U.S. service members, veterans and their families.

Called the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide, the effort focuses on creating a statewide plan. Seven other states are participating: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia. Atlanta is also participating in the related Mayor’s Challenge.

Kemp has tapped Georgia Veterans Service Commissioner Mike Roby to lead the Peach State’s effort.

Of the 1,392 Georgians who killed themselves in 2017, 194 were veterans, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. Nationwide that year, 45,390 people took their lives and 14% of them were veterans.

“Although Georgia has already begun to implement suicide prevention efforts, participation in this important initiative will allow us to further enact best policies and practices and advance our suicide prevention efforts by using a comprehensive public health approach,” Kemp wrote in a letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Kemp signed his letter to SAMHSA after touring the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, which treats anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. The two-week intensive outpatient program at Emory is free for military service members and veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

Related: Iraq war veteran helps others recover from invisible wounds at Emory

Barbara Rothbaum, a psychologist who leads the program at Emory, hailed Kemp’s decision.

“We really need to get the message across that treatment helps,” she said. “If you treat people effectively, it is going to help save lives.”

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