It’s a well known statistic that 22 veterans a day commit suicide in the United States.
Just this weekend there were two veteran suicides in our area, and one attempt. That person remains in critical condition.
A local veterans organization in Polk Township says enough is enough. The founder recently met with lawmakers who were looking for ideas that could be addressed with legislation and he has a program that works.
Army Veteran Robert Ferrerira says, "I have no idea of any other program in the country that is anything remotely like this. It’s very intense, it’s very emotionally charged, but at the end of it the weight of the world is kind of lifted off of you."
Ferreira just graduated from “Veterans Unstoppable” which is a life skills development program designed to foster a healthy ‘war to peace’ re-adjustment. It’s run by the Valor Clinic Foundation in Jonas and when organizers first met Ferreria, he had lost his business and was homeless.
Ferrerira says, "It’s very difficult talking about things that went on in the past and things that you went through, but being in a group of peers that understand what you went through it made it a lot easier."
Now thanks to the three month program the Army Veteran is back on his feet. Through the group sessions and retreats he learned to cut down on stressors veterans face in returning to civilian life by focusing on who’s important to him and changing some priorities.
Ferrerira says, "I moved into a new home. I’m basically rebranding everything I do with my business and I’m getting back into that and rebuilding relationships with my daughter, friends and family."
The Veterans Unstoppable Program started eight years ago and it’s suicide rate is zero. But 22 veterans a day are still taking their life in the United States.
Sarah Wargo says, "[My son] Michael died by suicide six years ago. He was a veteran, he served in Afghanistan after 9/11 and he didn’t report his PTSD or get help. If Valor existed when he was suffering, I believe he would’ve survived his PTSD."
That’s why Founder Mark Baylis is calling out to lawmakers to turn his ideas into legislation. He believes there are three focus areas in trying to prevent veteran suicides. One is direct actions.
Baylis says, "Education, healthy-lifestyle changes, counseling, medicine, doctors are things we can do, there needs to be research also."
Two is awareness. Baylis has already succeeded in getting neon yellow as the official Pennsylvania color for veterans struggling in the war at home. But it needs to be acknowledged nationally.
Baylis says, "Much like pink is for breast cancer and raise the awareness so people say that’s a problem, we need to fix the problem so maybe we get more resources behind it."
And three is understanding. Baylis tells us social conflict is at the center of veteran suicide.
Baylis says, "It seems like the behaviors that keep them alive in war when brought into civilian life are not their friend and they cause a lot of social conflict because everything is not a priority out here."
If you would like to help get resources in the fight against veteran suicide, you’re asked to call your local lawmaker or get involved at Valor Clinic Foundation.