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What It Takes To Support Veterans, 18 Years Into War

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America works to support veterans before they enter a mental health crisis, CEO Jeremy Butler says.

On today's program: More veterans are dying from suicide than on the battlefield; Crawford Grill could soon be a nationally recognized historic landmark; Pitt has appealed a renewed chance for its grad students to unionize; and there's a new database of addiction treatment and recovery resources across Pennsylvania.

Nonprofit wants to help soldiers with mental health challenges
(00:00 — 12:35) 

Nearly 7,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but an even greater number have died back home, by their own hands.

“Every military group that is alive today is at risk of suicide,” says Jeremy Butler, CEO of the nonprofit Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, every day, about 20 veterans complete suicide.

That figure includes veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the post 9/11 wars, which, according to Butler, makes it difficult to determine what’s driving the increase in suicides.

“It ranges from everything from too many deployments (to) the things that happen on those deployments," he says, "or it could be you were in the military 30 years ago, and you’re dealing with health problems that are catching up with you.”

According to Butler, two-thirds of the veterans who complete suicide are not in touch with or getting services from the Veterans Administration, so he's hoping to corral support through other nonprofits and both state and local organizations already engaged in military communities.

Both the military and the broader public are too reticent to talk honestly about their struggles with mental health, Butler says.

“If we’re only responding when someone is in a mental health crisis, we’re never going to get ahead of this problem.”

A Pittsburgh jazz landmark could get national attention 
(14:00 — 18:08) 

Pittsburgh's historic Crawford Grill 2 could soon find itself on the list of National Register of Historic Places. Penn­syl­va­nia’s his­toric preser­va­tion board voted unan­i­mously Tues­day to nom­i­na­te the jazz mecca to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. The building has been closed since 2003, but 90.5 WESA's Bob Studebaker says the community that was born at Crawford Grill 2 is still very much alive. The club opened in 1945 by the owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gus Greenlee.  

Debate continues over unionized grad students at Pitt 
(18:10 — 27:59) 

In April, grad students at the University of Pittsburgh held a vote to unionize. Backed by the United Steelworkers, the group would’ve represented about 2,000 teaching, research and other grad assistants, but their effort failed by 37 votes.

Since then, union and student organizers on campus have claimed Pitt administrators used unfair tactics to coerce and influence that vote. An examiner with the state Labor Relations Board agreed, at least enough to deem the vote inconclusive. A new vote was proposed, but Pitt has mounted an appeal.

Ben Case, a teaching fellow with Pitt's sociology department who's been helping organize the would-be Academic Workers Association, tells The Confluence's Megan Harris that he was disappointed to hear Pitt appealed, but wasn't surprised. 

New database catalogs Pennsylvania's addiction treatment resources
(28:05 — 38:25) 

The number of overdose deaths dropped by 18 percent statewide last year, but health officials and treatment providers aren't celebrating yet.

“It’s far too soon to say that the crisis—the drug crisis, the addiction crisis—that (the) tide is stemming,” says Kimberly Lohman Clapp, executive vice president of the Addiction Policy Forum, a national nonprofit addiction resource center.

The organization recently expanded to include Pennsylvania and has a database of nearly 1,700 treatment and recovery resources in the state.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all for addiction treatment, and there are levels of severity just like you see stages of cancer,” she says. “Timeliness is of the essence at that moment when a family is in crisis.”

The Addiction Policy Forum operates a 24/7 hotline (1-833-301-HELP) where trained counselors can help direct callers to an appropriate service that fits their needs.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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