U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie says "we had better start having a national conversation about mental health and life in this country or we're going to be looking at (suicide) numbers that are more tragic than the ones that we have now."

Wilkie, who visited the Cheyenne VA Medical Center on Thursday, says 14 of the 20 veterans who commit suicide every day are not in the VA system.

"We have to be more creative in getting out into the rural areas," he said.  "The key, particularly for a state like Wyoming, is allowing resources to flow not only to the state and the localities, but non-governmental organizations (and) charities to help us find those veterans that we don't see."

"It's that community interaction, particularly in rural America, that's going to allow us to hopefully turn the corner," he added.

Wilkie, who heads President Trump's new suicide prevention task force, says progress is being made, but there's a lot of work to do.

"There's still, even in 2019, a stigma attached to people who have anxiety (and) depression, and in our VA world the change has to come in the culture," he said.

"We have to -- and we're starting to do this -- expose our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to these issues at a young age," he added.  "Then hopefully the transition to veteran status will not be as hard, and when they encounter these things they won't feel that they have a problem by coming forward."


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