AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Veteran Affairs Clinic shut down Tuesday as detectives investigated a suicide in the first-floor waiting room.
Witnesses reported hundreds of people were inside the room when a man shot and killed himself shortly after noon.
Ken Walker, who’s been going to the VA Clinic on Metropolis for more than two years, said he continued with his group therapy class for nearly an hour after the shooting before he learned what happened.
“All of a sudden, over the intercom, they have this statement about everyone must clear the building including staff, so it was a little surprising,” Walker said.
Despite signs prohibiting weapons, the VA does not have metal detectors in the building. Instead, VA police do random bag searches.
The most recent government statistics from 2016 show 530 Texas veterans committed suicide, tied with Florida for the most from any state.
Compared to the general population, Lone Star veterans are twice as likely to take their own lives.
“For military veterans, access to weapons and familiarity with weapons makes it too easy,” said Jack Swope, a licensed professional counselor with Austin’s Samaritan Center.
A veteran himself, Swope often works with veterans as part of the Hope for Heroes program.
It provides six free therapy sessions to veterans before offering payment options on a sliding scale.
Swope said he doesn’t believe veterans struggle to get mental health services because there aren’t enough out there, but rather because they’re not easy to reach.
“There’s a scheduling problem,” Swope said. “Part of it is a matter of accessibility, getting there, and frankly part of it is a matter of finances and costs.”
The VA estimates as many as one in every five veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan currently suffers from PTSD. For Vietnam vets, the number is nearly one in three over the course of their lifetime.
Walker is left wondering if seeking treatment is becoming a safety issue.
“When I went home, my wife, that’s what she brought up,” he said. “I don’t know if I want you going back there if this happens.”
If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or go here for a list of resources.