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Homelessness, suicide rates up among Oklahoma veterans

Posted at 7:36 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 09:26:26-04

TULSA, Okla. — New data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows veteran homelessness and suicide rates have increased in the last four years.

The spike in numbers is very concerning to organizations like the Coffee Bunker, an organization dedicated to supporting veterans transition into civilian life.

“You have a very strong bootcamp orientation to strip everything away and become the lean green fighting machine that’s put everything behind them, but there’s no reverse bootcamp, you know," said Mary Ligon, founder of the Coffee Bunker. "You come in and you get a paper given to you, you’re discharged, and then you’re stepping off the curb into a world that doesn’t necessarily at all have anybody there let us help you navigate that."

For Ligon, the mission is personal. In 2007, she lost her 24-year-old son, Cpl. Daniel Ligon to suicide.

“It’s an illness that works it’s way from the emotions, and the shock, and it’s a moral injury of having come back with things haunting you maybe that you were involved in or that you had to do in combat that you had to do your whole life,” Ligon said.

Since losing her son, she's dedicated her life to saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers facing the same battle. The number of suicides among Oklahoma veterans has increased by more than 44 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affair.

“20 years of troop deaths in combat is almost equal to one year of veteran casualties due to suicide,” said Greg Bilbruck, chaplain for the Coffee Bunker.

Bilbruck is a veteran himself and works directly with veterans, many of whom expressed to him suicidal thoughts.

"The reason why we lose it is what we call warrior culture or battle mind," Bilbruck said. "It’s a philosophy of suck it up and drive on. Charlie Mike as we would call it. Complete the mission, move out and draw fire. It’s a mindset that doesn’t focus on emotions and feelings."

Mental health is not the only battle veterans are up against. Housing is another one. According to a recent report by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the number of veterans in the state of Oklahoma experiencing homelessness went up by 16 percent.

Deborah Drain, the transition service manager at the Coffee Bunker, said that at least three veterans have come to her with housing needs in the past two weeks. Drain said many are new to Tulsa, and others can't make rent.

That's why Bilbruck wants veterans to know that whatever their need, there is support available, and they're happy to provide it at the Coffee Bunker.

If you are a service member seeking help or know of a friend or loved one who needs help, the Coffee Bunker is happy to provide the support and resources needed. For more information about the Coffee Bunker, click here.

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