We can stop Veteran suicide. It starts with understanding.
A Special Message from our President and CEO
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a topic I am deeply passionate about because it is deeply personal.
As a retired Army three-star General, I have been close to suicide far more often than I ever cared to be. While I cannot guarantee we can eliminate suicide from our world, I do think we can make major strides. And I believe it starts with understanding.
There are certain experiences that ring true of any serviceman or woman, regardless of their branch, base or deployment. To build an analogy, being deployed can feel like – in a small way – preparing for game day. In sports, you spend the off-season training, pushing your body to its limits. You pour over videos and strategies and plays. You connect deeply with your teammates to ensure you understand each other on the field. Everything builds to game day, when you get to prove your talents and contribute to the team.
Time in the military is similar in that we spend nearly every moment in preparation for or in active service to our deployment – our game day. Even in the years between deployments, it is spent in active preparation for the next training exercise and orders. The difference is that during deployment, every day is game day. You could be called into action at any moment, and mentally and physically, you need to be ready.
With that level of intensity – whether you’re active for three years or 33 years – you’re going to leave time in service a changed person. You’ve lived all over, you’ve seen the world, you’ve connected with a group of people who became like a family, and you may have lost some of them along the way.
Transitioning to civilian life lacks the same intensity, purpose and camaraderie. The “Who I am and how I matter” is hard to find or sustain.
Without that stability, things start to fall apart. Depression can sink in. Families can be torn apart. People turn to substances to cope. With each stumble, our Veterans fall a rung on the ladder, until they reach rock bottom. To make it worse, Veterans can feel they have failed if they need to ask for help.
And then you get the call. A fellow serviceman or woman, who you once saw as invincible, has committed suicide. We have to beat the stigma.
By understanding this all-too-common narrative, we can intercept our Veterans in the in-between. We can give them the purpose and camaraderie they so desperately need.
Maybe you run a corporation, a small business or know someone who does. Can you advocate for Veterans to be hired? Can you give them a purposeful career? We love to say, “Thank you,” when we see a service member in the airport, but what many of them really need is an action such as, “I think I have a job for you.”
Or it can be as simple as extending an invitation to join you in a hobby or sport. Do you play a weekly card game? Participate in a kickball league? Enjoy a monthly book club? Have a passion for yoga? I encourage you to seek out the Veterans among you – the neighbor, the colleague, the friend, the family member – and invite them along. Meet them where they are, and hear their story.
For me, I connect with fellow Veterans each week through the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu here at the NVMM. When I notice someone missing one week, I check in. That phone call, email or text may be all someone needs to keep going. It says, “I noticed you. I see you. You matter.”
Together we can find the Veteran, reach the Veterans and stop suicide.
LT. GENERAL MICHAEL FERRITER
U.S. Army (Retired)
President and CEO, NVMM