MONTGOMERY, Ala (WIAT) — Gov. Kay Ivey along with other state leaders are kicking off a new initiative to help prevent suicide among our state’s veterans.

The initiative is called “Alabama’s Challenge” and is designed to provide service members, veterans, and their families the resources they need to prevent suicide.

“We simply owe these men and women and help them as they re-enter civilian life after they’ve completed their military service,” Ivey said during a press conference Friday at the Capitol building.

According to the Alabama Department of Veteran’s Affairs, veterans made up 18% of suicides reported in Alabama. However, only 9.1% of Alabamians have served in the military.

“That we’re not telling veterans what they want and what they need, but we are listening,” Said Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham.

Rafferty is a former Marine. He pushed for the creation of a legislative task force on veteran suicides after a close friend and fellow Marine struggled with life following his military career.

“He languished in his own pain which accumulated and finally relented in February 2017 when he took his own life,” Rafferty said.

The Alabama’s Challenge initiative is designed to combine resources from Alabama Department of Veteran’s Affairs and other state agencies to develop ways to recognize veterans who are in trouble and help.

“Talking about killing themselves, feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose, issues with substance use, withdrawal, giving away prized possessions, loss of interest, depression and anxiety.  But we all can help,” said Beverly Johnson with the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

One of the initial goals of the initiative is to identity so-called “suicide hotspots” in Alabama.  Then focus suicide prevention campaigns on those areas the help those in need.

Officials also pointed out the rise in suicide rates not just in Alabama but nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.