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Honor the fallen this Memorial Day, but remember to check on vets and active duty troops still with us

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

From an early age I knew that I wanted to serve my country. At age 17, I joined the Montana National Guard with signed consent from my parents and high school principal. This was the beginning of a 26-year military career that included 22 years in the Special Forces and 11 combat deployments overseas.

I am proud to have served the greatest nation on earth and grateful for the comrades, friends, experience and wisdom that my service has brought me. 

But as I settled into retirement, I saw firsthand the tragedy of our nation’s epidemic of veteran suicide. I felt confused and frustrated–haven’t the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and aligned nonprofits poured billions of dollars into solving this issue over the years? 

You might have heard of the phrase “22 a Day,” meaning that every day, 22 veterans are lost to suicide. But a recent report by America’s Warrior Partnership, in partnership with researchers at the University of Alabama and Duke University, found that the real veteran suicide rate per day is closer to 44 deaths. This rate is also more than double the VA’s report of 17 per day. This means that the problem is worse than we think, and that current models for fixing the problem sadly aren’t cutting it. 

I TRULY UNDERSTOOD MEMORIAL DAY WHEN I BECAME PART OF THIS GOLD STAR FAMILY

The more research I did to understand the problem, the more I kept coming across a common issue with existing programs to prevent veterans suicide: they only target veterans. 

This is the concept I had in mind in 2021 when I founded Check A Vet with former Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who is also my close friend and former commander. Check A Vet is the new grassroots “start-up” model to end veteran suicide. It is hyper-focused on establishing local peer-to-peer support groups for veterans, comprised of their families, friends and neighbors. 

By working with mental health experts and leaders in the medical community, Check A Vet has come up with a program that resembles Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, but without the 12 steps. To prevent veteran suicide, it’s imperative that veterans have a safe space to communicate openly about their experiences and emotions.

Marine vet pledges 22-hour workout to raise awareness for veteran suicides Video

The key component to preventing veteran suicide is spreading the message that suicide is preventable. Veterans, families and friends need to be able to recognize suicide risk factors. Our name says it all: Have you checked on a veteran today? 

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