Veterans are naturally drawn to communities. We’re closer than brothers and sisters in the military, and we’re more than a family in combat. But once we leave a cohesive unit, a community is voluntary. Organizations like Team Rubicon and Team Red, White and Blue have coalesced Veterans into groups in order to strengthen them individually and on the whole.
Yet even with support networks in place, some Vets in crisis unfortunately take their lives. In war, many lives are saved in the golden hour—the small window of time someone can survive serious wounds if they get immediate medical help. But there isn’t anything like that for Veterans who receive mental health wounds from combat.
The tragic suicides of Team Rubicon members Clay Hunt in 2011 and Neil Landsberg earlier this month remind us that we must keep a golden hour with each other, a pact to help look after each other and get help to those who need it fast.
Here are a few things you can do as a member of the Veterans community to recognize both yourself or your buddies in crisis, and what to do about it to receive help immediately.
Know what suicidal behavior looks like
The awful thing about a mental health crisis is there’s not always some grand gesture or clear sign that someone is thinking about harming themselves. Folks often hide their issues for a number of reasons, and signs of struggle are not as apparent. Additionally, there are a number of suicide risk factors, like a family history of suicide, relationship and financial problems, among others. That being said, signs can subtly creep up. If you notice a string of hopelessness, rage, a boost in alcohol or drug use, withdrawing from family, and other factors, do not hesitate to get yourself, your buddy, or your loved one immediate assistance.
The Veterans Crisis Line offers immediate support
The Veterans Crisis Line is staffed 24/7/365 by professional responders to immediately connect Veterans and family members with mental health resources. The number is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1 for Veterans or their families or friends). Folks can also text 838255, or chat online. Save the number into your phone, write it down and stick it on the fridge, post the link on Facebook—do everything you can to get it out there. It should be a reflexive action to whip the number out if you catch even an inkling of a Veteran in crisis. More than 28,000 rescues have been made since 2007, so it works.
Get the help at a Vet Center
Vet Centers are a unique support system for combat Veterans and their families. More than 300 non-descript offices around the country are staffed by mental health and family professionals like psychologists and social workers to deal with challenges associated with combat Veterans, like post traumatic stress disorder. They also offer services for families of war Vets. All this is done in an environment that is as welcoming and non-clinical as possible. Vet Centers often have extended and weekend hours to accommodate busy schedules. Also, Vet Centers are often staffed by fellow war Vets—to extend the feeling of community even more. Check out Vet Center services and find one in your community, and make sure to save your local one in Google Maps.
The burden of war on the mind eases over time for most, but it never fades, and sometimes it can be difficult to shoulder it—even with the help of a community. While it’s a promising sign that we’re continuing to hire more mental health clinicians, we have a long way to go on two fronts: spreading awareness of VA mental health care services, and breaking down the stigma of seeking the care in the first place. So let’s normalize outreach in our community. Make it an SOP in your local or national group to go over suicide signs and mental health resources. Call your buddies and check to see how they’re doing. Just remember one thing: the golden hour may have arrived for someone you know, and there are no second chances to get it back.