Combine that with the stress that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put on troops, and the risk of suicide increases. "We're working with the highest-risk group in the nation," Kemp said.
Stories abound of vets dying at their own hands after slipping through the cracks in the care network or not seeking help because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
In April, Spc. Rico L. Rawls Jr., 22, reportedly shot himself after he led Georgia State Police on a high-speed car chase. At the time, Rawls was wanted in connection with the shooting death of his wife, Jessica T. Rawls, of South Bend, Ind.
"My son-in-law Rico came back from Iraq a different person. We asked, pleaded, and begged for help for him, but no one listened," Rawls's mother-in-law told an Indiana TV station in a written statement. "The pre-Iraq Rico Rawls would not have done this."
In another case, Kim Ruocco's husband, John, killed himself in February of 2005 while awaiting a redeployment to Iraq, according to MSNBC. "He was so ashamed of being depressed and not being able to do his job," Ruocco told MSNBC. She believes her husband was going to seek treatment, but "when he sat there and thought about what it meant to get help, how people who see you, how young Marines viewed him, how his peers viewed him ... he thought the problem was him."
Kim Ruocco, 49, is now the national director of suicide education and outreach for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a group that provides counseling resources for suicide survivors and facilitates support groups for family members. The organization works to provide the social support similar to that prevalent among women - particularly among black women - for the loved ones of veterans and active duty personnel who die by suicide or in combat.
"We really try to provide wraparound support," said TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller. Surviving family members are paired with peers who have experienced similar loss.
"We give people a place where they can talk and share openly - connect with others who have experienced a similar loss," Neiberger-Miller said.
The task ahead of groups like TAPS and the VA is daunting. Suicides among active-duty troops are up in the first half of this year, the Associated Press reported Friday.
There were 154 suicides in the first 155 days of 2012, according to AP. That was about 50 percent more than the number of U.S. forces killed in action. Last year, 130 active-duty troops killed themselves over the same period, ending June 3.
Veterans are more likely than their civilian counterparts to die by suicide, according to a report published in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year. About 18 veterans kill themselves every day, according to a Veterans Affairs spokesman.
(Related: Demographic Snapshot: Veterans)