VA Rocky Mountain Network
Behind Friendly Lines: Reach Out to Help Veterans
Don't wait, reach out to help prevent Veteran suicide
Six ways you can help
U.S. Army veteran Darrell Mendiola was in a severe state of depression following his return from a deployment to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division in 2004. He wanted to end his life and he had a plan. But his uncle, a Vietnam veteran, and unknowingly a guardian angel, reached out and helped Darrell get the mental health counseling he needed.
Veterans are at higher risk for suicide compared to the general population. The suicide rate among veterans in 2019 was 52% higher than non-veteran adults in the U.S., according to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
That's simply unacceptable.
Stressful life events like divorce, job loss, substance use or housing troubles can be risk factors for suicide for anyone. Among our veteran population, these challenges can be compounded by stigma around sharing their problems with others and seeking help.
But there is hope – resources are available, and treatment works. Suicide is preventable.
I want all veterans – and anyone who has any manner of relationship with a veteran – to know they don't have to solve life's challenges alone.
The Ad Council and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs partnered to create the “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” national campaign that encourages struggling Veterans to seek help before they reach a crisis point. I encourage everyone to visit www.va.gov/REACH, a website offering comprehensive resources to help veterans with a wide range of life challenges—before problems become overwhelming.
I’ll be candid with two groups of people reading this column.
Fellow veterans, I know reaching out for help isn’t easy, but you were trained to do hard things. You have support locally, through the VA, from a multitude of organizations who share your struggles, and so many others.
Veteran-supporters, you can be part of the solution. Together, we can help prevent veteran suicide. I humbly ask each of you to commit to doing any one of these six actions:
1. Reach out to a veteran: Show you care by making a call or sending a text or email. When you send a message, you can write something as simple as: "How's everything going? I'm here for you if you want to talk. I can help you find support if you need it."
2. Hear veteran stories: More than 800 Veterans and family members have shared their stories of finding support and overcoming challenges. Check out some of these powerful videos at: https://www.MakeTheConnection.net. You can even tailor your search by service era, branch, gender, and combat experience.
3. Learn more about suicide prevention: Find out how to spot warning signs of an emotional or mental health crisis, learn how to support a veteran who may be at risk for suicide, or find mental health and suicide prevention resources at: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/families/index.asp.
4. Find resources: Suicide is complex, and stressful life events like divorce or job loss can be risk factors. For you or the Veteran in your life, visit https://www.va.gov/eastern-colorado-health-care/health-services/mental-health-care/ to find local resources and support here in Colorado to face life's challenges.
5. Spread the word: You don't need to be an expert to make a difference. Simply forward this article to a colleague within your network to raise awareness.
6. Add the Veterans Crisis Line to your contacts: I wrote about this in July, but it bears repeating. Add the new phone number to your contacts so it’s ready if/when you may need it. Here are the details of what you should add:
Name (or Company): Veterans Crisis Line
Phone #: 988
Notes: Veterans Crisis Line; Dial 988 then Press 1
Life certainly has its challenges, but it can be better if we work together and support each other through #VetsReachOut. Thank you for any effort you can offer to help prevent Veteran suicide.
Darrell received the help he needed and now he's offering it to other veterans as a peer support specialist at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System.
Thanks for allowing me to walk alongside you behind friendly lines.
For more information about the Veteran's Crisis Line, visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
Watch Darrell's story: https://youtu.be/k8efUO2P3m8