Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business. This is the most important message we can relay to Veterans, friends, family members, loved ones, VA staff and all of those in the community.
There are many programs within the Minneapolis VA Health Care System that partner with communities to provide information and educate the public on how they can recognize the signs of a suicidal crisis. Part of engaging in community outreach is to also provide materials that include the Veterans Crisis Line phone number, resources and contact information for specific programs developed to assist Veterans with improving their mental health.
When we go into the community for an event or specific training, we always make sure to bring “swag” that the Veteran or their loved one can use with the Veterans Crisis Line number. These are items such as tote bags, key chains, pop sockets, flashlights, stress balls, bandanas etc. Often, we never know how these are being used or if they are helpful.
However, talking with one very proud Veteran, we were able to get the answer.
While attending a Veteran outreach event, a Veteran of the Iraq War approached the table and we were prepared to ask him the regular questions of “Are you enrolled in VA Healthcare?” or “What branch of the military did you serve?” Before we could get those questions out, this Veteran stated that he wanted to share a story of how a Veterans Crisis Line bandana saved his battle buddy’s life.
This Veteran went on to share his story and explained that he was with his dog at a local park one morning when he received a phone call from a battle buddy who was in his same unit while in Iraq. This friend was not doing well and was talking about how he didn’t know if he could continue with life, that there is no point to living anymore, and that he was in pretty rough shape. All these comments the Veteran recognized as signs of a suicidal crisis. Although he spent 30 minutes with his friend on the phone and tried to help him, he did not know what else to do. This friend lived in a different state and he did not know of any resources to help him in the state he lived.
He then remembered that the bandana he picked up at a previous outreach event was on his dog and this bandana had the Veterans Crisis Line phone number on it. This Veteran was able to give his battle buddy the direct phone number to the Veterans Crisis Line and made him promise that he would call once they were done talking.
He went on to explain that his battle buddy did in fact call the Veterans Crisis Line and was able to get help at his local VA Medical Center. In hearing this story, the Veteran made a point to say that this specific bandana on his dog saved his friend’s life. He was so grateful that this number is given out and truly thanked the VA for doing outreach to get this message in the hands of Veterans so they can help other Veterans.
by Eric Wittenberg, Minneapolis VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator, US Army Veteran