The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs has introduced a new program to address rising suicide rates among former military personnel, the Associated Press reported. With the measure – called the Zero Veteran Suicide Initiative – state officials hope to equip the families and friends of discharged service members with the education and resources they need to help loved ones deal with combat-related psychological problems.

WDVA Secretary John Scocos announced the program October 14 at the WDVA Mental Health Summit and Veterans Stakeholders Symposium in Milwaukee, according to a news release.

"Experts in the field believe suicide is a disease that is preventable," Scocos explained. "It makes sense to step up suicide prevention efforts for veterans, in particular. This includes training non-medical people to recognize signs of suicide, how to persuade veterans to seek help and then where to refer a veteran for assistance."

The WDVA hopes to reduce veteran suicide rates with its new initiative.The WDVA hopes to reduce veteran suicide rates with its new initiative.

Veteran suicide rates have risen drastically over the past 15 years, The New York Times reported. Since 2001, the suicide rate for former service members with access to VA resources has risen by 8.8 percent, according to recent research from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over the same span, the suicide rate for those without access to the VA has increased by more than 32 percent. In total, veterans account for roughly 18 percent of all reported suicides in the U.S.

The VA compiled this data, released in July, using records for over 55 million veterans.

The agency and affiliated state organizations have attempted to address the issue by introducing new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and the other psychological disorders that often lead former service members to take their own lives. While some of these new techniques are effective, many veterans – especially those who served in particularly intense combat zones – have turned to family, friends and fellow military personnel for support.

The Zero Veteran Suicide Initiative builds off this strategy, offering participants the opportunity to learn therapeutic skills that are useful in moments in crisis. The WDVA provides this training through the QPR Institute, an independent training organization that promotes a suicide prevention technique called Question, Persuade and Refer. With this approach, an individual party to a veteran in crisis can offer immediate, impactful assistance.

However, QPR is not a counseling or long-term treatment technique. The institute advises those administering QPR to contact medical professionals soon after offering help.

Currently, about 413,000 veterans live in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, this group accounts for 17 percent of all suicides in the state. Scocos and his colleagues at the WDVA believe the Zero Veteran Suicide Initiative will help reduce this number.

"Veterans who have served our country deserve the best of care, including counseling or treatment for those who are considering ending their own lives," He concluded at the event in Milwaukee. "This initiative will help us to train individuals to identify veterans who may be contemplating suicide. Our goal is to completely prevent the terrible tragedy that is suicide."