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  • Suicidal Veterans 002

    Washington (CNN)Burdened by suicidal thoughts, Justin Miller, a 33-year-old Veteran from Minnesota, reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs in February for help, telling responders on the VA crisis line that he had access to firearms.

    Miller was advised to visit his local VA emergency department, which he did immediately.

    According to an inspector general report, Miller was admitted to the Minneapolis mental health unit after he described in detail symptoms of severe emotional anguish to VA clinicians.

    After four days under observation, he was discharged.

    Miller exited the hospital upon being released from care but never left the facility's grounds that day.

    Police found him dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound less than 24 hours later.

    With the permission of Miller's parents, Minnesota Democrat Rep. Tim Walz, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, shared this tragic story during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday as lawmakers addressed the issue of suicide prevention among Veterans and former service members.

    "It is infuriating to know that there is a possibility that Justin's death could have been prevented. It should outrage us all that an entire health care system failed at something so serious and that it claimed to be their highest clinical priority," Walz said.

    Investigators were unable to determine "that any one, or some combination, was a causal factor" in Miller's death, despite identifying several "deficits in care provided to the patient."

    However, the investigation did find that staff members at the Minnesota medical center, including the suicide prevention coordinator, did not properly follow protocol while handling Miller's case and, according to Walz, failed to utilize the three-step REACH VET process, in which a clinician can assess a Veteran's risk of suicide so that he or she receives the proper level of care.

    "This is profoundly unacceptable," the Minnesota Democrat said about the inspector general's findings, which he called "deeply disturbing."

    And that frustration was only compounded by the fact that this was not the first time the inspector general had investigated many of these shortcomings.

    "The finding that the Minneapolis VA failed to sufficiently sustain relevant recommendations OIG made in 2012 should outrage us all," he said.

    Paul Sherbo, a spokesman for the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, told CNN that their "deepest condolences go out to Justin Miller's family and loved ones" and said that in response to his suicide and the inspector general's review, they have redoubled their efforts "to ensure every Veteran receives the best possible care. This includes improving care collaboration across departments and disciplines -- from initial treatment and planning to discharge and medication management -- and engaging family members in Veterans' mental health treatment plans, whenever possible."

    Sherbo added that the Minneapolis VA Health Care System has started implementing the inspector general's recommendations and would complete all but one this year. He also encouraged Veterans in crisis to visit the nearest VA health care facility, where they can receive same-day urgent primary and mental health care services, and provided the 24-hour national suicide prevention hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255.

    Young Veterans at risk

    The circumstances surrounding Miller's death, including his age and the use of a firearm, also seem to highlight two of the major issues related to Veteran suicide, according to data outlined in a new report released by the VA on Wednesday.

    The suicide rate among younger Veterans who, like Miller, fall between the ages of 18 and 34, continues to increase, a VA analysis of suicide data from 2005 to 2016 reveals.

    "Rates of suicide were highest among younger Veterans (ages 18--34) and lowest among older Veterans (ages 55 and older). However, because the older Veteran population is the largest, this group accounted for 58.1 percent of Veteran suicide deaths in 2016," the report says.

    The use of firearms as a method of suicide also remains high, according to the data, as the percentage of suicide deaths that involved firearms rose from 67% in 2015 to 69.4% in 2016.

    Although the overall number of suicides among Veterans decreased slightly between 2015 and 2016, the VA is bracing for an increase over the next five years as thousands of Vietnam Veterans enter mid-60s, joining what is already the largest age group.

    Additionally, VA officials acknowledged that the average daily number of Veterans who take their own lives has held steady for years despite efforts to combat the problem.

    "In 2016, about 20 current or former service members died by suicide each day. Of these, six had been in recent VA health care and 14 had not," VA spokesman Curtis Cashour told CNN, explaining that Wednesday's suicide prevention report defines Veterans "as those who had been activated for federal military service and were not currently serving at the time of their death."

    "VA also presents the yearly suicide count of never federally activated former Guardsmen and Reservists," he said.

    This report "simply reiterates what many of us have known for a long time: that our fight to end the tragic epidemic of Veteran suicide is far from over," Walz said in a statement.

    "We must continue to work together to provide Veterans with immediate access to quality, culturally competent mental healthcare and make bipartisan progress toward eliminating Veteran suicide entirely," he said.

    VA officials have said they would prefer to move away from using the per-day metric as an indicator of suicide rates, arguing that it does not account for changes in population size and can be misleading.

    But for now, lawmakers and department officials seem to believe that number appropriately underscores the severity of the issue.

    "Most of us have heard VA's staggering and heartbreaking statistic that every day, twenty Veterans end their own lives. Twenty," Republican Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said during Thursday's hearing ahead of testimony from several suicide prevention experts.

    "We also know that over the past several years VA has invested significant resources towards addressing that number which stubbornly has not changed... We have the expertise. We have the support of the President. We can and must reduce suicide among Veterans. There is no excuse not to," he said.

    Where is the money going?

    President Donald Trump's recently confirmed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Senate lawmakers Wednesday that suicide prevention is a top priority for the department under his leadership and noted that the VA published "a comprehensive national Veteran suicide prevention strategy that encompasses a broad range of bundled prevention activities to support the Veterans who receive care in the VA health care system as well as those who do not come to us for care."

    He also highlighted the executive order signed by Trump in January intended to assist service members and Veterans during their transition from uniformed service to civilian life, "focusing on the first 12 months after separation from service, a critical period marked by a high risk for suicide."

    But despite a new budget of more than $200 billion, some critics argue that the VA continues to spend its money in the wrong ways.

    "Senior leaders like awareness campaigns and spend millions of dollars on them. They make a big splash in the media. It is measurable in how many outputs -- "views" or "hits" websites or social media pages get --- but does not generate outcomes," according to Jacqueline Garrick of the Whistleblowers for America.

    "These campaigns do not work because they cannot change behavior," she said in a statement to Congressional lawmakers.

    Rajeev Ramchand, a suicide prevention expert at the Rand Corp., told CNN that "while it may make people feel good, there is very little evidence that public awareness campaigns have a significant impact on suicide rates.

    "We do have evidence that public screening at emergency departments can reduce future suicide attempts," he said.

    However, he did note that areas with less evidence "should not be ignored as a comprehensive view of Veteran suicide prevention requires a thorough understanding of the environment where those events are occurring."

    In addition to developing and addressing the limitations around analytical tools like REACH VET, Ramchand told CNN that there are also a lot of things that "we know work," including initiatives that promote screening patients at emergency departments and then identifying those who are high-risk so that they receive the appropriate care.

    "Promoting quality evidence-based care... we know these things work, so let's get people to do them and do them more systematic way," he said.

    Troubling allegations

    In a written statement submitted to Congress, Garrick also said that her organization has been contacted by several VA employees who shared troubling accounts of workplace dysfunction that are having a direct impact of the quality of care provided and seem to undermine the programs currently in place.

    "At one VA medical center, a suicide prevention coordinator reported that they do not have time to complete suicide assessments or write prevention plans with every Veteran who potentially needs one because of the case load and its complexity," Garrick said.

    "She had 35 patients at one time. Administrators directed to note patients as 'moderate risk' for suicide so as not to raise red flags in the system. When a Veteran died by suicide on VA property, her supervisor refused to conduct a root cause analysis because that would be too time consuming," she added.

    According to Garrick, this VA employee asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation for speaking out.

    CNN has independently contacted the employee and agreed withhold their name and place of work at the request of the individual.

    When asked for comment about the broader issue raised in the whistleblower statement, VA spokesman Curtis Cashour would only say: "VA asked CNN for specific details regarding these allegations so the department could look into them, and CNN could not provide them."

    "CNN's publishing of such vague allegations without any details that would allow the department to investigate them is highly irresponsible because it does nothing to help fix any issues that may exist and could actually discourage Veterans from seeking VA care," Cashour said.

    Griffin Anderson, a spokesman for the Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN that lawmakers take the allegations in the Whistleblowers of America report seriously and that the statement "certainly alludes to an alarming and unacceptable trend that we are going to look into."

    While the committee has not received a formal complaint pertaining to this specific allegation, Anderson said that lawmakers would work with the suicide coordinator in question to pursue an OIG investigation should they come forward.

    Source

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  • Suicide Pushes VA

     

    Your kid can grow up, even join the Army and go to war, and you'll still do dad things when he comes back. David Toombs would make his son lunch.

    "I always made him extra, just in case he got hungry or he wanted a snack or he was running low on money. So I made his lunch like a typical dad," says Toombs.

    Toombs worked right next to his son, John, at a steel die shop in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

    John took the job after leaving the Army, but he couldn't leave his memories of Afghanistan behind so easily. He developed a drug problem that landed him in the residential treatment program at the Murfreesboro Veterans Affairs center.

    It's meant to be an intensive therapeutic atmosphere, but it also demands strict discipline, and on the morning of Nov. 22, 2016, John was abruptly kicked out for being late to take his medications.

    Later that day, his father came to pick him up.

    "I said, 'Come on John, let's go, I don't want to leave you out here,' " David Toombs recalls. But the 32-year-old didn't want to leave.

    "He said, 'I'm gonna be OK. I'm gonna sleep in the emergency room, go see the patients' advocate and the director in the morning, and try to get back in the program,' " Toombs recalls.

    John loitered around the campus all night. His father believes he went to the emergency room and was turned away; the Department of Veterans Affairs denies it. Sometime before dawn, John recorded a video on his phone.

    "When I asked for help, they opened up a Pandora's box inside of me and just kicked me out the door," Toombs said, "that's how they treat Veterans 'round here."

    In the message, he thanks the people who did help.

    "Some of you I love more than the whole wide world," he says and it ends.

    Then John went to a construction site on the campus and hanged himself.

    A struggle to improve

    Murfreesboro was, at the time, one of the lowest-rated VA medical centers in the country. It's part of a triangle of three VA centers — in Nashville, Memphis and Murfreesboro — that all had one star out of a possible five in the department's internal rating system.

    Most of the complaints the hospitals receive are about access rather than care. NPR heard complaints from a half-dozen Veterans who get their care at Murfreesboro. They described driving long distances only to find that their appointments had been canceled.

    Army Vet Kenny Yates said that happened to him repeatedly last year.

    "I would show up for my appointments early, and they'd be canceled while I was in the waiting room," says Yates. "They canceled while I was there and then mailed it to me like they had canceled ahead of time."

    Another Murfreesboro Vet, Dan Stott, says he was turned away from getting mental health care because he wasn't acutely suicidal or homicidal.

    When Yates and Stott complained to the White House Veterans' hotline, they did get a meeting with the new director of the VA medical centers in Nashville and Murfreesboro, who is herself a Vet.

    Former Navy Capt. Jennifer Vedral-Baron previously ran U.S. military hospitals. VA sent her to Tennessee in 2016 to help turn the medical centers around.

    "Study after study has shown that the VA does very well in quality measures, but across the board, we don't do so well in patient satisfaction," she says.

    Vedral-Baron says the VA in Nashville and Murfreesboro has better patient outcomes than local private care and can take advantage of affiliations with local medical schools like Vanderbilt. Since she has been in charge, the centers' ratings have gone up from one star to two stars.

    Some of the fixes to customer service have been basic, she says, like retraining staff how to take in patients on the phone.

    She also fired 47 staff members and moved many others into different posts. She hired a former Army doctor who served in Iraq to oversee mental health care. Dr. John Jackson had previously worked in the private sector, and he brags that the VA has much better results and access, including same-day appointments for mental health.

    "I can get you in here, that's what I love about this place," says Jackson.

    He has taken Murfreesboro's low-star rating as a challenge but says there is more to the VA's metrics than just the numbers. Improving the rate of follow-up calls to patients, for example, is a common-sense way to take care of mental health patients, says Jackson.

    Jackson wasn't working at Murfreesboro when John Toombs killed himself. Vedral-Baron was only three months on the job. It still makes her emotional.

    "My heart continues to go out for this family. I did meet with the family not long after Sgt. Toombs' death. We cried together, we talked about the future," she says.

    David Toombs says that made an impression.

    "I can honestly say that I have the highest regards for her," he says. "She was a Navy captain. She could only say what she was allowed to say. But she really really was emotional about it."

    A lawsuit and a memorial

    It was at that meeting that Vedral-Baron brought up the idea of naming the new building — where John Toombs died — the "Sgt. John Toombs Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Facility."

    David Toombs supports the idea, and it's now on a bill moving through Congress.

    But it's also an awkward thing, because Toombs is suing the VA for $2 million. He says that staff at the program callously kicked his son out and didn't follow the VA's own rules to make sure he was safe and stable. Toombs' suit claims that the director of the program was making an example out of John and should have known he was a high risk for suicide. In court documents, the VA denies that.

    David Toombs says he wants the people responsible for kicking his son out of the residential program to lose their jobs, but he says he doesn't hate the VA.

    "As far as saying I'm anti-VA? We don't need shut it down; no, we need to fix it," Toombs says.

    "That problem is the same as what happened with my son. You've got bad apples. And there's really hardworking people out there that care. They do good jobs, but unfortunately circumstances like this, they get overshadowed. Because we only hear the negative about the VA," he says.

    Vedral-Baron said she couldn't discuss the lawsuit. Since the suicide, all the senior staff at the residential program have left or been reassigned. But the only person who was fired from the program is a nurse, Rosalinde Burch. Burch said in an affidavit that she was fired for speaking out about mistreatment of John Toombs.

    Vedral-Baron said she couldn't comment Burch's firing because of privacy concerns.

    She would say that she is still in favor of naming the new building after John Toombs, even though it makes some of the VA staff uncomfortable. She hopes it will help to destigmatize suicide and mental health and be part of improving the VA.

    "I'm from the Navy, I look at it like a carrier," she says. "It doesn't turn quickly, but when it does start to turn, it's kinda hard to stop it. That's where I feel like we are right now."

    Congress turns at about the same speed, but the bill to name the new building after Sgt. John Toombs may become law this fall.

    Everywhere David Toombs looks reminds him of John — the grocery store in town, the sprawling VA campus he drives by and the steel die shop where he still works. He used to be a supervisor, but he asked to move back to a less demanding job because his thoughts of his son are too distracting. Toombs says if the lawsuit is successful, he'll use the money to fund a scholarship and other Veterans' causes.

    "My son died because of their arrogance and negligence," he says. "I can't honestly tell you I'll ever have days or weeks of happiness again, but if I can direct my life helping Veterans somehow, at least I'll maybe find some peace."

    Source

  • Vet Suicide Conv

     

    WASHINGTON — Melissa Bryant said the 5,520 flags placed along the National Mall Wednesday to illustrate the toll of Veteran suicide this year alone were more than just a visual reminder of the scope of the problem.

    “When we came out here this morning to plant these flags, every one of us had a friend or family member in mind,” said Bryant, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Some of us standing here could have been one of these flags, but for an intervention.”

    The event — which has become an unfortunately annual occurrence for Veterans advocates — is part of a broader push in recent weeks by lawmakers, Veterans groups and Veterans Affairs officials to bring the issue of suicide among former military members back into public consciousness.

    Last month, VA officials released new data that showed the overall rate of suicides among Veterans has held steady at around 20 a day for roughly a decade, but researchers are seeing a troubling increase in the rate of younger Veterans taking their lives.

    Those realities come despite a concerned push in recent years by policy makers who have increased crisis intervention and mental health treatment resources for Veterans.

    Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and vice ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the next step for Congress is to ensure that VA facilities are properly staffed to respond to the needs of suicidal Veterans, and to better identify what programs are working to help stem the problem.

    Last week, in a hearing before that committee, health experts said they see a gap in integrating those lessons learned into local community services, to provide a broader safety net for Veterans in distress.

    But to help fix that gap that, advocates said, they need to remind the public of the problem.

    “I have seen far too many Veterans and members of my community fall to suicide,” Said Kristen Rouse, founding director of the New York City Veterans Alliance, at Wednesday’s event. “What we see behind us represents a national crisis … These are Veterans from your home state, from your hometown, from your home city.”

    During Wednesday’s event — held between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, in an area with heavy tourist foot traffic — dozens of onlookers stopped to take pictures of the display and talk to the advocates involved.

    Stephanie Keegan, whose son Daniel served in Afghanistan but died in 2016 because of delays in receiving treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder, said she was grateful to share her families struggles with those visitors.

    “It absolutely makes a difference,” she said. “Not enough people understand the problem and the consequences of our wars. As a country, we need to pay more attention.”

    To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

    Source

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  • Suicide Prevention Month

     

    The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of its Soldiers, Department of the Army civilians, and families. To emphasize this commitment, the Army is joining the nation in observing September as National Suicide Prevention Month.

    Every person has a responsibility and commitment to reach out and help fellow Soldiers, civilians, or family members who need the strength of the Army. Together, a difference can be made by helping those who are at risk and suicides can be prevented.

    Effective suicide prevention requires everyone to be aware of the risk factors for suicide and know how to respond.

    If a person seems suicidal, the time to take action is now. Talk to that person before it is too late. Be direct and talk openly. Listen, and allow them to express their feelings.

    Battle buddies are the front line in surveillance and detection of high-risk behavior. Be a buddy, learn the warning signs of suicide, and find out how to help someone threatening suicide.

    Employ ACE

    Ask, care, escort, or ACE, is an easy-to-remember acronym that any Soldier, leader, family member, or civilian can use.

    • Ask your buddy – Have the courage to ask the question, but stay calm. Ask the question directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
    • Care for your buddy – Remove any means that could be used for self-injury. Calmly control the situation; do not use force. Actively listen to produce relief.

    Escort your buddy — Never leave your buddy alone. Escort to the chain of command, a chaplain, a behavioral health professional, or a primary care provider.

    Know the signs

    Do you know the warning signs for suicide?

    If anyone you know exhibits the following signs, get help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

    • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
    • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means.
    • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
    • Feeling hopeless.
    • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
    • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities.
    • Feeling trapped.
    • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
    • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society. This includes feeling anxious or agitated, being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time. It also includes experiencing dramatic mood changes or seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.

    Source

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  • Vets Urge VA To Prescribe

    Though medical marijuana is legal in most states, the Department of Veterans Affairs will neither recommend nor prescribe it because of a longstanding federal law.

    Charles Claybaker spent five tours in Afghanistan, kicking in doors and taking out terrorists. But an aircraft crash in 2010 left the Army Ranger with a crushed leg, hip and spine and a traumatic brain injury.

    Army doctors loaded him up with a dozen prescriptions to numb the pain and keep his PTSD in check.

    But Claybaker said the pills transformed him from a highly-trained fighter into a zombie for at least two hours a day.

    "I'm talking mouth open, staring into space," Claybaker said.

    Claybaker decided he would rather live in constant pain. He took himself off opioids and suffered for eight months.

    Then, after retiring and moving back to St. Petersburg, Fla. he discovered marijuana - and he said it changed his life.

    "I can just take a couple of puffs sometimes. It just depends on the day and what's going on or how bad it is," Claybaker said.

    He says marijuana relieved his pain and helped with his anxiety. Claybaker says marijuana also helped him focus and he finally started feeling more like himself.

    "I was a 2013 gold medalist at the Warrior Games in archery, I graduated summa cum laude from Eckerd College, I started my own charity. I adopted my 14-year-old brother who is now on a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State," he said. "I understand that marijuana has some ills, but for me personally, it absolutely helped me do all those things."

    In order to get the drug, though, he had to break the law. Though medicinal marijuana is legal in Florida, the federal government says it's a crime to use it. Claybaker and other soldiers can't get prescriptions from the VA, and their insurance won't cover the cost.

    Under VA policies, the agency says it will not recommend marijuana nor help Veterans obtain it. The VA says Veterans who use marijuana will not be denied VA care, but they need to obtain the substance themselves and pay for it out-of-pocket. A month's supply from a dispensary can be more than $500.

    Claybaker was among more than a dozen Veterans recently profiled in a 20-page report by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. They're pushing the federal government to reclassify marijuana. The Vets are using the drug to treat conditions ranging from pain to PTSD.

    But the Veterans face an uphill battle. That's because marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical value. The classification, along with the its federal illegal status, means there hasn't been a lot of medical research on marijuana.

    "We're realizing that there's a lot of holes here in our knowledge," said Ziva Cooper, an associate professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University Medical Center.

    Last year, Cooper and other researchers published a study that evaluated 10,000 scientific papers in which marijuana was referenced. They found substantial evidence that chronic pain can be reduced by marijuana and substances known as cannabinoids that are found in it. Those cannabinoids include a widely sold product known as CBD.

    But, the report found no scientific studies on marijuana's use for PTSD.

    "We need those rigorous double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to inform us if cannabis can actually help with this, or cannabinoids," Cooper said.

    Janine Lutz said marijuana could have saved her son, John, who died from suicide after serving as a Marine Lance Corporal in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    He returned home to Davie, Fla. in 2011 with knee and back injuries and a severe case of PTSD.

    In 2013, doctors at the VA prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for his PTSD, despite a note in his records that it had led to a previous suicide attempt. His mom said he was dead within a week.

    "I would call that a pharmaceutically-induced suicide," Janine Lutz said. "And I actually sued the VA for that and I won my case."

    Lutz received $250,000 in a settlement with the VA.

    Today Lutz runs the Live To Tell Foundation, which supports military Veterans. Families of Vets who died by suicide send her their photos, which she laminates and links to her traveling Memorial Wall. Her "Buddy Up" events bring Veterans together so they can form bonds and look out for one another.

    It was at those events that she learned how many Veterans self-medicate with marijuana. Lutz said the government needs to act.

    "Stop playing games with the lives of America's sons and daughters, and if they want cannabis, give it to them and stop giving them these psychotropic dangerous drugs that are destroying their bodies and their minds," Lutz said.

    The American Legion polled its 2 million members and found 92 percent favored marijuana research and 81 percent support federal legalization.

    The group has since joined in the effort to push Congress to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug.

    So far, that request has gone nowhere.

    VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he has to follow the rules.

    "I'm not a doctor, never played one on television. I'm not a scientist," Wilkie said in an interview. "I will follow the federal law. And the federal law is very clear."This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and Veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    Source

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  • James Woods

     

    Updated: After actor James Woods used his Twitter account to call attention to a Veteran who sent a distressed tweet, authorities located the man who had tweeted he was contemplating death by suicide.

    "After numerous attempts to locate (Andrew) MacMasters yesterday, several of our officers were able to make contact with him to verify his well-being as well as ensuring that the appropriate resources were made available to him in reference to his tweet," Maitland (Fla.) Police Department Lieutenant Louis Y. Grindle told USA TODAY.

    The "Salvador" actor, 71, alerted the Orlando Police Department Monday night and asked authorities to perform a wellness check on MacMasters, a former Marine.

    "A man named Andrew MacMasters just said on @Twitter that he is sitting in a parking lot and is going to kill himself," Wood tweeted to his nearly 2 million followers. "He’s sitting with his dog, a black lab, possibly in a WalMart parking lot."

    Woods' plea for help included a screenshot from MacMasters' Twitter account, which has since been deleted.

    "I'm on Twitter every day, I retweet all the time but this is the first tweet I've ever written," user @macmasters_a tweeted Thursday. "I'm (a) good guy, I'm a Veteran, I love America. I'm gonna kill myself tonight. I've lost everything I have nobody, nobody cares."

    Woods responded to MacMasters' cry for help in a series of tweets, initially asking the Veteran to "tell me where you are."

    "We can talk. I don’t care what anybody thinks. Do you? Let’s have a conversation. Just you… and I," Woods said in one tweet to MacMasters, adding in another, "I’m following you now, so you can DM me. We can talk privately. Or we can talk openly right here. Lot of people worried about you right now."

    The actor tried to engage the distraught Veteran: "Someone said you’re Andrew. In Orlando? Im not trying to trap you. Let’s just talk. You also have your dog. Your little schnoot. Boy or girl?"

    "So think about this. A lot of Vets, I understand, have come to where you are tonight," Woods continued. "If you could just push this decision off tonight, at least, maybe you would also inspire another Vet to seek help. You could save another man, too. By waiting to do this."

    In 2016, the most recent data available, the Department of Veterans Affairs said about 20 Veterans a day take their own lives, a suicide rate 1.5 times greater than Americans who never served in the military. And Veterans accounted for 14 percent of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2016, even though only 8 percent of the population has served.

    In a last-ditch effort, the actor tried to comfort MacMasters. "I’m driving cross country. Sitting in a motel room. I have all night. I know that sounds dorky, but here I am! I would love to talk. Just talk. I won’t push you into anything," he said.

    Once it was clear the suicidal Veteran could no longer be reached on Twitter after deleting his social media account, Woods turned to his followers to gather information on MacMasters' location.

    The "Casino" actor learned his home address and forward it to authorities in Maitland, Florida, who promptly checked his residence. MacMasters was not there.

    "If only Andrew could see the THOUSANDS of fellow Americans who are pulling for him. It’s like he’s lost behind enemy lines and we are cheering him home, willing him to survive," Woods tweeted. "Andrew, do this for the 'other 21' Vets a day who don’t make it home from the darkness. Stay alive!"

    Woods continued to update the search on Twitter, sharing tweets from people who notified MacMasters' family, including the Veteran's mother and brother.

    Maitland Police Public Information Officer Lt. Louis Y. Grindle informed USA TODAY Tuesday morning that authorities were able to reach MacMasters, though his whereabouts are unknown.

    "Our agency was able to make contact with him by phone earlier this morning, where he advised he was OK but did not wish to have contact with law enforcement," the emailed statement read. "Our officers are still working to try and physically locate him to determine his well-being."

    Woods, who frequently uses his Twitter page to share his conservative political views, recently used his account to help link people together with family members following the California wildfires.

    Source

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  • DVA Logo 29

    CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – (CLARKSVILLENOW) – The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has released a data sheet from 2016 that details the suicide rate of Veterans in Tennessee, compared to the Veteran suicide rates in the southern region and the nation; as well as the general suicide rates in Tennessee, the southern region, and the nation.

    There was a total of 156 Veteran suicides in the state of Tennessee in 2016. Broken up by age range, the numbers are as follows:

    • 18-34: 26
    • 35-54: 38
    • 55-74: 66
    • 75+: 26

    By comparison, there were 2,611 Veteran suicides in the southern region, and 6,079 in the nation.

    Further, it was found that there was a total of 1,070 general suicides in Tennessee, 17,011 in the southern region, and 43,427 in the nation.

    There was a Veteran suicide rate (based on per 100,000 people) of 32.8 in Tennessee, 30.6 in the southern region, and 30.1 in the nation. This indicates that Veteran suicide rate in Tennessee was not significantly different from the national Veteran suicide rate.

    Despite that conclusion, it was also found that the Tennessee Veteran suicide rate of 32.8 was significantly higher than the general national suicide rate, which was found to be 17.5. The general suicide rate for the southern region was found to be 18.2.

    You can view the data sheet in its entirety here.

    If you are a Veteran or a family member of a Veteran, and you struggle with depression, there are resources available to help you. If you are in the Clarksville area, one such resource is Soldiers and Families Embraced, or SAFE. SAFE is an organization dedicated to counseling and helping Veterans and Veterans’ families. For more information on SAFE, you can read about some of their methodologies and processes. You can also listen to a Clarksville’s Conversation interview with the executive director of SAFE, Lantz Smith.

    Source

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  • learn from his suicide

    The suicide of Marine Corps Veteran Justin Miller earlier this year prompted a federal review of the Minneapolis VA system. The final report released last week criticizes a communications breakdown at the VA. Meanwhile, Miller's family is still wondering what happened to him, and why he didn't get the help he needed.

    Miller had his first piano lesson at 3 years old. He took to it so fast, pretty soon he outpaced his big sister, Alissa Harrington.

    "The joke is that I'm the musical slouch of the family because I only play four instruments," she said.

    By high school, Harrington said, her brother was leading the school marching band with his trumpet. At 17, the Marines recruited him to play in the military band.

    He was proud when he knew that he was going to be a Marine, and was going to play music.

    Harrington said the family wasn't all that nervous about Miller becoming a Marine. He was in the band. It was a guaranteed assignment.

    They wanted to believe all he had to do was look sharp and blow those pretty high notes.

    But the U.S. government doesn't train Marines just to play music. And in summer 2005, the Marines sent him to the Middle East.

    "He was deployed to Iraq," said Harrington. "So he was in Iraq with his trumpet and a gun."

    Miller was assigned guard duty, standing watch over the gates of an air base.

    Something happened there that changed her brother, Harrington said. She's still piecing together the details.

    "He would tell one of us that he had to shoot camels," she said. "He'd tell another one of us that sometimes those camels had riders."

    And to the people he knew really well, he said sometimes the camels were wired with explosives. They blew up when he shot them.

    "He was a soldier, but he was a musician. That type of trauma was not something he was expecting to have to process," Harrington said.

    Miller finished his deployment and came home. He trained to become an electrician, like his dad. He played his trumpet for the Coon Rapids American Legion. He started playing piano again, as he'd done as a kid.

    Then, in February of this year, he called a Veterans crisis hotline, and checked himself into the mental health unit of the Minneapolis VA. He was having suicidal thoughts and needed help.

    After four days of treatment, Miller was released. He walked to his car, climbed in and took his own life with a gun. He was 33.

    Those last four days of Miller's life have become the subject of a federal review.

    An exhaustive report released last week by the Office of the VA Inspector General shows a breakdown of communication across the Minneapolis VA system.

    The facility employs suicide prevention coordinators who work with high-risk patients.

    But Miller was never flagged as a high-level suicide risk, so he never got that help.

    Miller told several nurses that he had easy access to guns, but denied that fact to others. No one noticed the inconsistency.

    When his parents called the VA, looking for updates, some departments didn't even know Miller had been discharged.

    It was only after that phone call when VA staff searched their parking lot and found Miller's body.

    Harrington had none of this information until the Inspector General's report was released.

    "And it was a lot of the same raw guttural emotions all over again. The same way when we found out that he had died in the first place," she said.

    She doesn't blame the doctors or nurses for what happened. She says a lack resources and funding stopped them from helping her brother.

    She hopes that telling his story will change things at the VA.

    Source

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  • Dr Shulkin 39

     

    In May of 1968 I was sent to Vietnam, where I translated intercepted communiques during the war. The horrors of war I witnessed changed me forever. Since I returned home, I have worked to end war and for social justice.

    In Vietnam, I, like millions of Vietnamese and many other American soldiers, was exposed to Agent Orange. Decades later, the VA linked that exposure to my diabetes.

    Right now there is a push to get Vets out of the VA system and into the private sector medical industry. But the private sector is not prepared to care for Vets. Private sector doctors do not understand the unique medical needs of Vets, including war trauma, battle induced hearing loss or toxin exposure such as Agent Orange.

    A recent RAND study of New York doctors showed only 16 percent asked about occupational or military exposures such as Agent Orange. The same report found just 20 percent of doctors even asked their patients if they had spent time in the military.

    While I may suffer from chronic diabetes because of Agent Orange, I am one of the luckier ones. Many people exposed to Agent Orange ended with Parkinson's disease, devastating cancers or they saw their children born with birth defects.

    This year, I returned to Vietnam where my heart was broken when we visited a hospital where children with serious birth defects linked to Agent Orange live out their lives. It also saddens me to say that currently children of male American Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange are exempt from receiving VA benefits.

    The VA knows just how common Agent Orange exposure is in Vets and has a comprehensive health care program designed specifically for those exposed to or sickened by Agent Orange.

    The VA is the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. It is a system designed by Vets and for Vets. The majority of those who work for the VA are Vets themselves. They understand the unique and complex needs of Vets.

    Importantly, a recent study found that pushing Veterans out of the VA may end up costing more taxpayer money and mean lower quality of care for Vets as the private sector system isn't prepared to meet the needs of more patients.

    In addition, most VA workers are protected by unions. As a retired postal worker and a longtime labor activist I know how important it is to have union workers be able to push for changes to make things safer and better. Union nurses at the VA have been able to do just that. They have fought for safe patient handling protections and nurses' involvement in safety inspections.

    Importantly, they have made sure that a nurse can report unsafe conditions without facing retaliation. If something is not right where I am getting health care, you know I want to be sure that someone - like a nurse - feels backed up and safe enough to say something.

    Right now the VA is under attack. President Trump kicked out the former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. Shulkin opposes efforts to push Vets out of the VA and into the private health care sector, a move he says will hurt Vets. In a piece published in the New York Times Shulkin wrote, "I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for Veterans."

    We must fight against this effort. Pushing Vets out of the VA means leaving them to the wolves of the private sector, where sickness is seen as a way to make money and Vets will no longer get care from those who understand their needs and how best to address their illnesses.

    I have worked hard since I came back from my deployment in Phu Bai, Vietnam to fight against the forces that seek to exploit people. I continue to stand up against the American war machine, and I stand up for my brothers and sisters in the labor movement, now I am standing up for myself and for all my fellow Veterans.

    I know, I am standing up for what is right, when I say we must save the VA.

    Source

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  • Suicide Awareness

     

    Hello, I’m Robert Wilkie, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    I’m blessed with the opportunity to serve our nation’s 20 million Veterans. Until recently, I was also honored to serve more than 1.4 million dedicated service members, and their families, at the Department of Defense.

    Service members and Veterans who have defended our freedom have earned our enduring gratitude. They should have the opportunity to live meaningful, productive lives, in the same freedom and peace that their service and sacrifices made possible for so many other Americans.

    Unfortunately, the cost of defending freedom can be tragically high. On average, 20 American Veterans die by suicide each day. Of those, 14 do not seek health care within our VA.

    VA is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans, providing some with access to specialized innovative care, that may be unavailable in the private sector. And more and more, Veterans are receiving care through VA.

    Ultimately, whether Veterans choose VA, or get care or support from a peer, or a community agency, there is no wrong door when it comes to saving lives. Preventing Veterans suicide is a top priority for VA, the Department of Defense and this administration. Our goal is to prevent suicide among all Veterans, including those who may not receive care from us.

    This September, during Suicide Prevention Month, we’re spreading awareness about the risk factors and warning signs for suicide, and helping people start the conversation around mental health and support for Veterans in their communities. During Suicide Prevention Month, and all year round, we encourage everyone to be there from Veterans and service members.

    Starting the conversation may be challenging, but reaching out to a Veteran who’s facing a tough time can make all the difference, and it may even save a life.

    As part of VA suicide prevention strategy, we deliver targeted support to different populations based on their suicide risk. And we know that service members transitioning to Veteran status face a higher risk of suicide, especially during the first year after separation from the military.

    That’s why, this past January, President Trump signed an executive order that created a task force to align the mental health and suicide prevention efforts of VA, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. We’re working together, across departments, to expand mental health programs and other resources for Veterans during that critical first year after departing from uniformed service.

    Even one Veteran, or service member lost to suicide is too many. VA is working hard to prevent that, through efforts like this critically important executive order, and others. But we can’t do it alone.

    Visit: BeThereForVeterans.com for resources to help you be there for Veterans and the service members in your life.

    Ending service member and Veteran suicide will not be easy, but we can make a positive difference, if we work together to be there, for all those who have served.

    Thank you,

    Robert Wilkie

    Source

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  • Spartan Pledge

     

    To fight the suicide epidemic, Veterans vow to serve and be there for one another

    It started with a conversation about Veteran suicide and what is causing the “22 a day” epidemic.

    It continued with a promise, which became the Spartan Pledge.

    The Spartan Pledge is a commitment among Veterans to not take their own lives but rather stand for their fellow soldiers in times of despair. It was created almost accidentally by an Iraq Veteran, Boone Cutler, when he spoke with another Veteran, his friend “Nacho,” about a mutual friend’s suicide.

    “I said to him, ‘Have you ever thought about it?’” Cutler remembered. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I think about it every day.’ And it blew me away. We’d never discussed that—and we were tight. We covered each other.”

    Off the cuff, Cutler and his buddy made a promise.

    “You really can’t think too far ahead when you’re in that state of mind, so I said, ‘Just call. Just call me first. Don’t punk out. Don’t go without saying goodbye,’” Cutler told his friend. “And then we made an agreement to at least call each other first.”

    Other Veterans helped that evolve into what Cutler started calling the Spartan Pledge, which he said around a thousand Veterans have made. It’s just two lines, meant to give Vets a pause before they hurt themselves:

    “I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”

    Veterans commit suicide at a 50-percent higher rate than those who did not serve in the military, according to a study published last year from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The 2015 DAV Veterans Pulse Survey found that 1 in 4 Veterans see suicide as one of the biggest challenges facing those who have served.

    “You don’t have to be suicidal to take the pledge,” said Steve “Luker” Danyluk, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who’s also taken up the cause. “It’s finding a mission: Help your buddy. It’s reconnecting, re-establishing those relationships that seem to vanish once you leave the military.”

    When Danyluk and retired New York City Fire Department firefighter Danny Prince started talking about 25 pounds of steel recovered from the World Trade Center and the aftermath of the tragedy on 9/11, their conversation became about how they could use that powerful symbolism to bring attention to the terrible epidemic of Veteran suicide as well.

    Prince, a Coast Guard Veteran, visited injured Veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last fall. With him, he carried the 25 pounds of scrap metal.

    “It’s remarkable, the pieces of steel that we have. They’re so important, and you don’t want to waste anything,” said Prince.

    Danyluk had an idea to turn the steel remnants into a symbol for Veterans and first responders everywhere that could potentially open up the conversation and save Veterans’ lives. What evolved was nothing short of powerful. They started moving on a plan to gather Veterans and first responders together and forge the steel into a “Spartan Sword.”

    “The pure, almost religious nature of the steel from the World Trade Center was transformed into something about healing,” said Danyluk.

    The 9/11 attacks motivated a lot of people to join the military, Danyluk said, so the symbolism of the sword is important. “It’s about transformation—taking this twisted steel that was part of our nation’s greatest tragedy and turning it into something beautiful: a weapon of healing rather than a weapon of destruction.”

    Danyluk helped organize the Spartan Alliance, a collaboration of nonprofit Veteran organizations, and joined forces with Prince to create Spartan Weekend.

    DAV got on board early, realizing the impact such an event could have for our nation’s ill and injured Veterans.

    “DAV proactively fights this epidemic by providing services that connect Veterans with care and address their quality of life, but this was a chance for us to become involved in a way where we could directly see an impact,” said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “It was a new idea—nothing like this had been done before—so we knew we were in for something truly special.”

    Hundreds of Veterans, their families and caregivers attended the Spartan Weekend, held in Washington, D. C., in May. They gathered to raise awareness about Veteran suicide, a struggle many of them have faced head on.

    “I know too many people who have chosen suicide over life, including my own supervisor,” Air Force Veteran Sarah Bonner said. “That’s why I came. I will do anything—absolutely anything—to make sure other Veterans don’t choose that option. This weekend reminds us that we are not alone. We have our Veteran family. I could’ve been one of the 22, but I wasn’t because of support. So now I’m here to show other Veterans I support them.”

    The weekend included a bike ride, a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe headlined by Kristy Lee Cook and other events designed to bond participating Veterans and family members. It culminated on Mother’s Day with a nondenominational service at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

    The Rev. Matt Pawlikowski, an Army chaplain from West Point, officiated a Mother’s Day service honoring Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers who have sons or daughters who are actively serving or have lost their lives in service.

    Margie Miller, from New York, came to the event eight months and seven days after her son, a 22-yearold Marine, fatally shot himself. She talked about how they spoke on the phone most days and how she had just heard all about his plans, seemingly happy as ever, to go boating with friends. Two days later, her husband told her, “There are three Marines in the living room.”

    “You took a solemn pledge to protect our country,” Miller told the audience of Veterans. “Take that same pledge, the Spartan Pledge, and protect yourself. Say, ‘I will reach out for help.’”

    The ceremony closed with dozens of Veterans taking an oath against suicide.

    Leading the pledge was Miller and DAV Past National Commander and Marine Vietnam Veteran Roberto “Bobby” Barrera.

    “Come over here,” Barrera said while reaching out to the sword with his prosthetic arm. “Gather around the sword with me; touch it. If you can’t touch the sword, grab ahold of someone who is touching it, so we can form an unbreakable connection. You are not alone. We are here. Your family, your Veteran family.”

    Everyone in attendance gathered around the sword and each other in an emotionally charged circle while they repeated the pledge.

    The evening before the pledge at the memorial, Barrera shared his personal story and told his fellow Veterans that, even recently, he himself had contemplated suicide after moving and experiencing a setback to his physical health. The fight against the epidemic is something that requires constant vigilance, he said. Nearly a half-century after being severely burned in combat, and after years of counseling and mentoring others, he was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    “I realized I needed help. I thought about what it would mean to my family and my fellow Veterans if I had made that choice. I thought of all the people who had supported me, and that’s what got me through a very dark period,” said Barrera. “It’s not just recent-era Veterans who contribute to these statistics. To solve this problem, we need to make a commitment as a community to be there for one another.”

    The event also featured DAV Past National Commander Dennis Joyner, a Vietnam Veteran and triple amputee, who is the president of Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation. “When the last bullet is fired, when the last man or woman steps off the plane or ship and comes home, for disabled Veterans, their struggles— those that are visible and the ones we can’t see—remain an everyday part of life,” said Joyner. “We as a community of Veterans and survivors must band together and ensure none of our own are left behind or forgotten.”

    Source

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  • Spartan Pledge 002

     

    Taking the 'Spartan Pledge' Against Suicide

    To fight epidemic, Veterans vow to serve and be there for one another

    It started with a conversation about Veteran suicide and what is causing the "22 a day" epidemic.

    It continued with a promise, which became the Spartan Pledge.

    The Spartan Pledge is a commitment among Veterans to not take their own lives but rather stand for their fellow soldiers in times of despair. It was created almost accidentally by an Iraq Veteran, Boone Cutler, when he spoke with another Veteran, his friend "Nacho," about a mutual friend's suicide.

    "I said to him, ‘Have you ever thought about it?'" Cutler said during an interview with NPR reporter Quil Lawrence. "And he said, ‘Yeah, I think about it every day.' And it blew me away. We'd never discussed that -- and we were tight. We covered each other."

    Off the cuff, Cutler and his buddy made a promise.

    "You really can't think too far ahead when you're in that state of mind, so I said, ‘Just call. Just call me first. Don't punk out. Don't go without saying goodbye,'" Cutler told his friend. "And then we made an agreement to at least call each other first."

    Other Veterans helped that evolve into what Cutler started calling the Spartan Pledge, which he said around a thousand Veterans have made. It's just two lines, meant to give Vets a pause before they hurt themselves:

    "I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family."

    Veterans commit suicide at a 50-percent higher rate than those who did not serve in the military, according to a study published last year from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A Veterans Pulse Survey released by the charity DAV (Disabled American Veterans) last Veterans Day found that 1 in 4 Veterans see suicide as one of the biggest challenges facing those who have served.

    "You don't have to be suicidal to take the pledge," said Steve "Luker" Danyluk, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who's also taken up the cause. "It's finding a mission: Help your buddy. It's reconnecting, re-establishing those relationships that seem to vanish once you leave the military."

    When Danyluk and retired New York City Fire Department firefighter Danny Prince started talking about 25 pounds of steel recovered from the World Trade Center and the aftermath of the tragedy on 9/11, their conversation became about how they could use that powerful symbolism to bring attention to the terrible epidemic of Veteran suicide as well.

    Prince, a Coast Guard Veteran, visited injured Veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last fall. With him, he carried the 25 pounds of scrap metal.

    "It's remarkable, the pieces of steel that we have. They're so important, and you don't want to waste anything," Prince said in an interview with NPR reporter Quil Lawrence.

    Danyluk had an idea to turn the steel remnants into a symbol for Veterans and first responders everywhere that could potentially open up the conversation and save Veterans' lives. What evolved was nothing short of powerful. They started moving on a plan to gather Veterans and first responders together and forge the steel into a "Spartan Sword."

    "The pure, almost religious nature of the steel from the World Trade Center was transformed into something about healing," said Danyluk.

    The 9/11 attacks motivated a lot of people to join the military, Danyluk said, so the symbolism of the sword is important. "It's about transformation -- taking this twisted steel that was part of our nation's greatest tragedy and turning it into something beautiful: a weapon of healing rather than a weapon of destruction." Danyluk helped organize the Spartan Alliance, a collaboration of nonprofit Veteran organizations, and joined forces with Prince to create Spartan Weekend. The charity DAV got on board early, realizing the impact such an event could have for our nation's ill and injured Veterans.

    "DAV proactively fights this epidemic by providing services that connect Veterans with care and address their quality of life, but this was a chance for us to become involved in a way where we could directly see an impact," said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. "It was a new idea -- nothing like this had been done before -- so we knew we were in for something truly special."

    Hundreds of Veterans, their families and caregivers attended the Spartan Weekend, held in Washington, D. C., in May. They gathered to raise awareness about Veteran suicide, a struggle many of them have faced head on.

    "I know too many people who have chosen suicide over life, including my own supervisor," Air Force Veteran Sarah Bonner said. "That's why I came. I will do anything -- absolutely anything -- to make sure other Veterans don't choose that option. This weekend reminds us that we are not alone. We have our Veteran family. I could've been one of the 22, but I wasn't because of support. So now I'm here to show other Veterans I support them."

    The weekend included a bike ride, a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe headlined by Kristy Lee Cook and other events designed to bond participating Veterans and family members. It culminated on Mother's Day with a nondenominational service at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

    The Rev. Matt Pawlikowski, an Army chaplain from West Point, officiated a Mother's Day service honoring Gold Star and Blue Star Mothers who have sons or daughters who are actively serving or have lost their lives in service.

    Margie Miller, from New York, came to the event eight months and seven days after her son, a 22-year-old Marine, fatally shot himself. She talked about how they spoke on the phone most days and how she had just heard all about his plans, seemingly happy as ever, to go boating with friends. Two days later, her husband told her, "There are three Marines in the living room."

    "You took a solemn pledge to protect our country," Miller told the audience of Veterans. "Take that same pledge, the Spartan Pledge, and protect yourself. Say, ‘I will reach out for help.'"

    The ceremony closed with dozens of Veterans taking an oath against suicide.

    Leading the pledge was Miller and DAV Past National Commander and Marine Vietnam Veteran Roberto "Bobby" Barrera.

    "Come over here," Barrera said while reaching out to the sword with his prosthetic arm. "Gather around the sword with me; touch it. If you can't touch the sword, grab ahold of someone who is touching it, so we can form an unbreakable connection. You are not alone. We are here. Your family, your Veteran family." Everyone in attendance gathered around the sword and each other in an emotionally charged circle while they repeated the pledge.

    The evening before the pledge at the memorial, Barrera shared his personal story and told his fellow Veterans that, even recently, he himself had contemplated suicide after moving and experiencing a setback to his physical health. The fight against the epidemic is something that requires constant vigilance, he said. Nearly a half-century after being severely burned in combat, and after years of counseling and mentoring others, he was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    "I realized I needed help. I thought about what it would mean to my family and my fellow Veterans if I had made that choice. I thought of all the people who had supported me, and that's what got me through a very dark period," said Barrera. "It's not just recent-era Veterans who contribute to these statistics. To solve this problem, we need to make a commitment as a community to be there for one another."

    The event also featured DAV Past National Commander Dennis Joyner, a Vietnam Veteran and triple amputee, who is the president of Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation. "When the last bullet is fired, when the last man or woman steps off the plane or ship and comes home, for disabled Veterans, their struggles -- those that are visible and the ones we can't see -- remain an everyday part of life," said Joyner. "We as a community of Veterans and survivors must band together and ensure none of our own are left behind or forgotten."

    The Spartan Pledge has caught fire in the Veteran community and continues to be a binding promise among suffering Veterans. While there can be no study of how effective the Pledge is, many say just having that "battle buddy" aware of what's going on inside can be the difference between suicide and life.

    Cutler and a charity called The Gallant Few have made this mission to combat Veteran suicide with his creation of The Spartan Pledge. Warfighters promise not to take their own lives, and instead vow to find a new mission to help one another.

    The newest data from the Department of Veterans Affairs states that 20 Veterans commit suicide every single day. Don't be one of the 20. Contact the Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255 – or any medical professional if you're having thoughts of suicide.

    Source

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  • Be There

     

    To mark Suicide Prevention Month this September, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is shining a light on effective ways to prevent Veteran suicide with its Be There campaign.

    The campaign highlights the risk factors and warning signs for suicide, provides information about VA mental health and suicide prevention resources, and helps individuals and organizations start the conversation around Veteran mental health in their communities.

    “In our various communities, everyone is in a position to make a difference for a Veteran who may be at risk for suicide,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who recorded a video about VA’s strategies to prevent Veteran suicide. “A common misconception is that you need special training to talk safely about suicide risk or show concern for someone who is in distress. One simple act of kindness could help save a life. I encourage everyone this September, and beyond, to take the first step in acting as that support system.”

    Talking with a Veteran about mental health or suicide risk may be challenging, but VA encourages community leaders, colleagues, family and friends to simply “Be There” by sharing messages of support that can help show a Veteran you care. VA has also collaborated with community partners and is asking individuals across the country this month to share resources with Veterans in their lives via the BeThereForVeterans.com webpage.

    Veterans in crisis or having thoughts of suicide — and those who know a Veteran in crisis — can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or text to 838255.

    Source

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  • Suicide Data

     

    The suicide rate among Vets has not improved and remains a deeply disturbing problem, despite work by the VA and others, according to a VA analysis and statistics obtained by Fox News.

    Last week, the VA released findings from a years-long investigation into Veteran suicide data from 2005-2015 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The findings are clear: the suicide rate is constant.

    Veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as non-Veterans, according to the VA report. Additionally, VA researchers found the number of Vets who take their own lives each day “remained unchanged at 20.” And even more-recent data obtained by Fox News suggests things may not be much better in 2018.

    Even for the mother of a U.S. Marine who took his own life after battling PTSD, and who has since dedicated her own to preventing Veteran suicides, the numbers are stunning.

    “I had no idea it was that bad,” said Janine Lutz. “That’s really lighting a fire under my butt to work harder."

    The Veterans Crisis Line provides 24/7 support to Veterans in distress, as well as concerned friends and family members. Staffers are available by phone at 800-273-8255 (Press 1), online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, and via text at 838255.

    The volume of phone calls the Crisis Line receives is staggering. The VA told Fox News that since October 31, 2017, the Veterans Crisis Line has fielded approximately 222,000 calls from Veterans who are having thoughts of suicide. That is in addition to the 49,000 calls from family members or friends who are concerned about a Veteran who is considering suicide.

    That breaks down to nearly 950 calls from Veterans (or nearly 40 calls per hour) every day since Halloween, and more than 200 calls a day from friends and family.

    "The mother of all battalions"

    Lutz, who lives in Florida, is affectionately referred to by many in the Veterans' community as “the mother of all battalions” for her efforts to bring Veterans of all stripes together, and prevent more Veteran suicides, via the LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation.

    Lutz started Live To Tell to honor the memory of her son “Jonny,” a Marine who took his own life while under the influence of a cabinet’s worth of medication for his PTSD. Since then, she has sued the government for her son’s death, eventually winning a settlement out of court, but her work didn’t stop there.

    “About five months after [Jonny’s] death, I woke up one day and I was mad,” Lutz told Fox News. “I was mad knowing that my son wasn't the first to die like this. And I said why didn't somebody tell me… why aren't we doing more as a community? And it was then I decided that I was gonna be the voice, and fight for those who fought for us.”

    It was only a year after her son’s death that Lutz made her first foray into advocacy, organizing a motorcycle rally that brought out an unexpectedly large number of people from across the country. She was excited about the hundreds of supporters who turned out, but unsure of what to do next.

    That was until Lutz’s niece played a song for her that she says “grabbed me by the chest,” and inspired a plan to save the lives of Veterans across the country:

    Buddy Up

    “It’s time to buddy up ‘cause yup, this is wrong.

     

    Surviving battle, but die when we’re home.

    Yeah it hurts, that’s why I made this song.

    It’s time to see the signs, like the lights when it’s on.”

    Those lyrics are from the song “Red Flags” by Soldier Hard, an artist whose real name is Jeff Barillaro and who also happens to be an Army combat Veteran. Barillaro dedicated himself to creating music that gives a voice to Veterans, and the issues they experience along with their friends and families. When Lutz heard the lyrics to his song, she says she knew immediately what she had to do.

    “He said ‘you all need to buddy up’… and he was talking to the Veterans out there,” Lutz says. “When I heard that, I said that's it. I'm gonna get these guys together, build local communities, facilitate – I don’t know how, but that’s what I’m gonna do.”

    Using Soldier Hard’s song as inspiration, Lutz has since established two “Lutz Buddy Up” social clubs, one in Florida and one in Massachusetts, and this summer she’s touring the country in the hopes of establishing even more. The concept is simple: bringing Veterans together (and even first responders) so they can support one another while sharing a meal, playing a game or two, or just chatting.

    “We welcome our Veterans just as they are, wherever they are,” Lutz says. “Whatever mindset they're in, we welcome them. All we want to do is connect them with their peers, and it's just been a great success. Dozens and dozens of success stories.”

    Lutz says membership has skyrocketed from just a handful back in 2014, to well over 500 in 2018 – including Veterans from every U.S. armed conflict since the Korean War.

    Asked what she would tell Veterans who might be suffering in silence, or friends and family who might be concerned about a Veteran they know, Lutz says to remember that connecting with peers is the key.

    “They need to speak to their peers, someone who has walked in their shoes,” Lutz says, before pointing out that this is the exact philosophy soldiers employ on the battlefield.

    “That's what they fight for, to keep the guy next to them alive… Yeah, they have a mission, but the biggest part is making sure the guy right next to you is alive and well,” Lutz says. “You're watching each other, and that’s what they have to continue when they get home…

    “So if you don’t have any local buddies you know, find some in your community because they're everywhere, and they're looking for help too,” Lutz says. “Reach out to other Veterans in your communities because that is your best medicine - your peer who has walked in your shoes.”

    If you are a Veteran in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, or if you are someone who knows a Veteran in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or send a text message to 838255.

    Source

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  • Vet Finds Salvation

     

    Randy Elston graduated from VA San Diego Healthcare System’s Aspire Center on Sept. 4 after six months of care at the facility, which assists Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan recover from wounds of war. For the 38-year-old Marine Veteran, the thought of completing the program fills him with something that has been absent from his life as of late – hope.

    Hope in Randy’s life means the promise of seeing his two young daughters again, the chance of getting on his feet with a place to live and a future career, and having something to look forward to with each day. Not very long ago, none of these things were possible and the burden almost ended his life on several occasions.

    Elston’s troubles began with difficulties in his immediate family long before he joined the military. They continued in his service, with deployments and experiences that led to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After being honorably discharged, Randy faced a strained marriage, which eventually ended in divorce.

    “When my marriage imploded, I didn’t know how the court was going to look at me and say I’m able to take care of my kids,” Randy said. “I just tried to check out.”

    One night when talking to his ex-wife, she ran out to take her kids to her brother and Randy tried to end his life with a bottle of pills.

    She came back to find him on the floor and barely managed to save his life. Randy woke up in intensive care at his local hospital, broken in many ways and without a path forward. After recovering, Randy went through several programs to help treat his mental health. While they did help move him forward, he needed something more. He was out of money, homeless and living on the streets.

    “When he came to us, he was a lost individual.”

    “After completing a program in Louisiana, I got an opportunity to come to the Aspire Center,” Randy said. “It took a while but I was finally accepted and came into the program last February.”

    Among the treatment modalities offered at the Aspire Center are: case management, vocational rehabilitation, psychotherapy, education classes, medication management, complementary/alternative therapies, social and recreational activities, and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. In addition, Veterans are given the tools to thrive when they leave, such as help with vocational, financial, and mental health resources.

    “When Randy came to us, he was a lost individual. He had lost so many things leading to his admission into the program, his wife, contact with his children, no home and no care,” said Dr. Lu Le, staff psychiatrist at the Aspire Center. “He was a very appropriate candidate for our program, being very heavily exposed to combat and had post-traumatic stress. I thought he would be a good fit. The initial phase of his care, I felt like, was a challenging transition. There’s definitely a transitional period where Veterans are dealing with a new way of doing things.”

    “When I came here, I had given up on myself again,” Randy said. “I didn’t want help but knew I needed it. I didn’t know what I needed. After about three or four days, I fled.”

    “In talking and building rapport, he didn’t seem open to it,” Dr. Le said. “He was still preoccupied with the stress at hand and got up and left the building.”

    “I jumped the fence behind the building and ran into oncoming freeway traffic,” Randy said. “I was running into traffic for 30 minutes trying to get people to hit me. I would run into both lanes of traffic and everyone would swerve around me or hit their brakes.”

    When he saw police helicopters in the air and police sirens approaching, he left the area. Again, he tried to end his life through several methods, all unsuccessful. In his last attempt, he was found before completing the act and eventually came back to the Aspire Center.

    “That was my turning point in my recovery,” Randy said. “I knew that I was sick, but I had a fight-or-flight instinct. I was fighting for my way of dealing with things…alone. I didn’t have an honest way of dealing with problems, so I broke down and fell apart. It all happened in the worst way.”

    Randy ended up in the mental health inpatient unit at the San Diego VA Medical Center to receive a higher level of care for what he was going through at that moment. It was restrictive but stripped down the layers and allowed him to focus on what was going on in his head and in his life. In the context of that environment, he could see what an opportunity the Aspire Center was in supporting his recovery. Randy realized his mistake and wrote letters to the Aspire Center staff, pleading for readmission.

    “I haven’t had that kind of care my whole life.”

    In the meantime, he had ASPIRE staff and Veterans visit him on a regular basis at the inpatient unit, which felt reassuring in an odd way. “I’m from Arizona, and here I am in California, and people are checking in on me. Nobody knows me. Why would someone care about me? I haven’t had that kind of care my whole life,” Randy said.

    After careful consideration and monitoring of his progress to see if it was appropriate for Randy to return, the Aspire Center staff invited him back. “It was a big decision as a team because we had uncertainties based on his past,” Dr. Le said. “Through medication management to target his impulsivity, intensive psychotherapy and amazing staff support, the rest is history in terms of his growth and progress acquiring the tools to integrate back into society,” he added.

    Now with support from the Aspire Center, Randy plans on attending a trade school. He has helped with housing through social work’s HUD/VASH program and is volunteering heavily in the community. He’s also continuing with meetings and further care to help him transition. “Here is an individual who was lost and now has found meaning and purpose to his life,” Dr. Le said.

    Most importantly in his recovery, Randy has made progress in getting to see what gives him the most hope: his daughters. When he entered the program, Randy had doubts on whether he would ever see them again. Through a new attorney, he now has increased access by phone and visitation, a process he hopes will evolve as time goes on.

    September 9 – 15 was Suicide Prevention Week. If you know a Veteran who may be having an emotional crisis, get them the help they need by calling 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for Veterans.

    Source

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