The Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs Health Care System Chaplain Services held their first S.A.V.E. Our Heroes motorcycle ride from the OKC VA Medical Center to the Fort Gibson National Cemetery on Saturday.
“We held this event to develop a supportive community for those dealing with suicide, addiction and mental health,” said Kristen Melton, Chief of Chaplain Services. “This was a joint effort between us here at the OKC VA and Eastern Oklahoma VA. We appreciate everyone involved in making this happen.”
The motorcycle ride started at the OKC VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City and traveled along Route 66 to the Fort Gibson National Cemetery where Chaplain Mitchell Fincher from Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System assisted with a Remembrance ceremony.
“We had about twenty-five bikes and trikes join us for the ride,” Melton said. “It was very moving to see cars and trucks pulled over during the procession and at one point an elderly gentleman stood with his cap off as we passed paying his respects.”
The purpose of the ride was to bring awareness to Veteran suicide during Suicide Prevention Month.
“My dad came back from Vietnam and struggled for three years before he finally couldn't do it anymore,” said David Potter, Staff Chaplain. “Suicide changes lives forever and what we did on Saturday we’re hoping people will notice. We hope people will talk and help spread the work to prevent suicides.”
Veterans and Non-Veterans participated in the ride to help bring awareness to suicide.
“This here is another way of helping Veterans,” said Paul Niehoff, Army and Vietnam War Veteran. “The VA has changed a lot since ’71 and this is just another part of them helping us and other Veterans.”
While this was the first ride to be hosted by the OKC VA, Chaplain services plans for it to be an annual event.
“I hope to see future rides here in this parking lot growing every year,” Potter said. “I hope I'm going to have to be standing on a platform to give the opening remarks and blessing because this is important.”
Tragically, US Veterans are at a higher risk for suicide compared to the general population.
“It was very empowering to participate in this ride,” said David Castoe, motorcyclist who rode on Saturday. “Besides bringing awareness of this important issue, it reminded Veterans along the ride that they are not alone and there are resources out there to help them if they.”
The acronym S.A.V.E. helps anyone remember the important steps involved in suicide prevention:
Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized.
Ask the most important question of all – Are you thinking of killing yourself?
Validate the Veteran’s experience.
Encourage treatment and expedite getting help.
“One person can help SAVE a life,” Melton said. “That one person maybe you by being there. Be There.”
If you or a Veteran you know are in crisis and need assistance, please call the Veteran Crisis Line by dialing 988 then option 1. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
More information on preventing suicide can be found at www.VA.gov/Reach