TODAY   |  May 27, 2013

Military suicide rate raising alarms

Last year, more military men and women died from suicide than on the battlefield in Afghanistan. NBC’s Alex Wagner shares the struggles of soldiers suffering from PTSD and the non-profit groups aiming to save them.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> progress," supporting veterans. there are sobering new statistics about thousands of active duty and service members committing suicide and suffering from pstd. our alex wagner looks at efforts made by civilian groups to help the men and women serving our nation.

>> he wanted to be in the military for years and years. when he was 17, he joined.

>> reporter: bobby alexander's son, kevin , had just finished high school when he joined the army national guard .

>> that was always our fear, combat, it ended not being my fear after all.

>> reporter: five years ago this month, he took his own life.

>> every year is rough, but the last five years, it was hard.

>> reporter: kevin 's story is a story of countless american soldiers . last year more service members died by their own hands than in combat in afghanistan. at least 349 active-duty soldiers committed suicide . the number of suicides among veterans is even more staggering. 22 per day for close to 1 suicide an hour.

>> the rate of suicide continues to increase.

>> reporter: dr. raul henzy is a former policy adviser at the department of veterans affairs .

>> i think this country and the president are going to be judged by history by the way we reintegrate this group of veterans.

>> left, right.

>> reporter: 2.5 million service members have returned or will be returning home in the next few years.

>> when 50% of people or more are coming back with a claim of ptsd, it is going to be a monumental challenge.

>> reporter: while the va is bringing in several thousand mental health professionals , grass-roots organizations are also taking up the challenge.

>> when i was on active duty , i realized there was a problem.

>> reporter: this platoon leader lost a sergeant to suicide. when he left the army three years ago, he found the the nonprofit stop soldier suicide. in addition to linking at-risk soldiers and veterans to counselors, the group aims to combat the stigma of asking for help.

>> i think people are afraid to go to their chain of command for fear of reprisal or losing rank, or being judged. and while that's not the case, that stigma still exists.

>> reporter: for bobbie's son, kevin , it was too much to overcome.

>> he did not want anybody to know that he had any problems. so he pretty much lied about everything. because he didn't want to mess up his military career.

>> reporter: but for others like kevin , changing attitudes and greater resources have saved lives. jason gregory served for almost a decade until he was pulled out of iraq for severe ptsd.

>> the thought that life would be better if it was over, we're there.

>> reporter: jason sought help and found it.

>> my doctor recommended i give him a call, and i did. i have fleet a month after. he saved my life.

>> reporter: as the country grapples with the effects of war, these difficult lessons are laying a foundation for healing.

>> please talk to somebody. don't take it solely on yourself.

>> reporter: for "today," alex wagner, nbc