“Life has its challenges. As a Veteran, you don’t have to solve them alone.” —VA.
The Department of Veteran Affairs collaborated with the Ad Council to launch a “Don’t Wait. Reach Out” National Campaign last year that encourages struggling Veterans to proactively seek help for their life challenges before they reach a crisis point.
This year, as the world observes Suicide Prevention Month, the VA has once again highlighted its ongoing campaign of spreading hope among Veterans “across a wide range of life challenges before these problems become overwhelming.”
“We are grateful to the many organizations across the country that are doing the important on-the-ground work to reach and support Veterans in their local communities,” said Dr. Matt Miller, Executive Director, VA Suicide Prevention. “Our message to Veterans, and those who support them, is Don’t Wait, Reach Out. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but Veterans are trained to do hard things.”
Suicide is complex, yet it is preventable. But as Veterans are trained to endure challenging situations, some might struggle to reach out and ask for help because of the stigma surrounding it. Because of this, they are among the most vulnerable compared to the general population. According to the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, although the Veteran suicide rate significantly and meaningfully decreased in 2019, the rate remained 52 percent higher than non-Veteran adults in the US.
Moreover, the largest Veteran cohort (ages 55 and above) has the highest number of deaths by suicide. In contrast, rates of death by suicide relative to the size of their population are highest among ages 18-34. The report also noted that in the US, 90 percent of Veterans are men, and 10 percent are women.
Nonetheless, it remains a national public health concern caused by stressful life events such as divorce, job loss, substance use, or housing troubles. These and other crises can be risk factors for suicide. Another risk factor to carefully consider is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which some Veterans experience after coming back from a deployment in a harsh environment. However, it is important to note that PTSD is a treatable condition and doesn’t always cause suicide or suicidal ideation nor only exists among Veterans. It can affect anyone, at any age.
The “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” campaign is part of the VA’s ten-year strategy to end Veteran suicide through a comprehensive, public health approach where everyone can be part of the solution. Even as little as checking in with the Veterans in your life who may be having a rough time.
Other organizations also launched campaigns to spread awareness and conduct their own suicide prevention initiative and intervention among Veterans—such as the Wounded Warrior Project, which is working to reduce the “fears and barriers warriors” struggle with when asking for help.
“The warriors (registered Veterans in the organization) we serve tell us they just want to feel like themselves again after military service, but many are reluctant to ask for help,” said Erin Fletcher, Psy.D., director of WWP’s Warrior Care Network®. “As we enter Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Wounded Warrior Project is continuing to combat the stigma.”
A US Marine Corp Veteran who attended one of the proactive interventions of WWP said, “[s]ometimes it’s just random conversations that can alter your life.”
Meanwhile, The American Legion “Be The One” Campaign reminded veterans and civilians alike to take appropriate actions as soon as possible and not wait for it to reach a point of no return.
“There is a significant amount of stigma around mental health issues that really prevent people from pursuing treatment in getting care,” said Dr. David Rudd, pointing to the warrior culture in the military. “Campaigns like Be the One by The American Legion are critical in helping people realize and understand that being human means you are going to have difficulty in different parts of life and circumstances.”
Rudd is a lifetime member of The American Legion and is a psychologist deployed with the Army’s 2nd Armored Division during the Gulf War. He also highlighted the crucial effects caused by the Global War on Terrorism, saying, “Two decades of war are going to create a lot of psychological and emotional challenges… These types of campaign helps spread the word and the reality.”
“Don’t wait. Reach out.” If you or a Veteran you know needs support, visit Veteran Crisis Line or dial 9-8-8, then Press 1. This line is available for intervention and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You can also reach out through live chat or text at 838255.