Note from MOAA: If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or via www.veteranscrisisline.net/.
The end of August for many Americans usually means goodbye to summer vacations and hello to making plans for a new school year, holiday celebrations ... even football season.
That is before the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. Because of the pandemic precautions and social distancing mandates, many of our conversations include phrases like:
- “It’s like we are living in an alternate universe that isn’t real.
- “I can’t wait to get back to normal and take vacations and travel again.”
- “The days just seem to blend together.”
- “I miss socializing and getting together without the fear of catching or spreading the virus.”
Predictability seems to be more foreign by the day. The sense of uncertainty may be familiar to many of us who will use this week to remember where we were, or how we served, on Sept. 11, 2001 — a day that changed America forever.
For those in and out of uniform and their families, and for many Americans, the days and years after 9/11 rang in a “new normal” we continue to deal with today — physically, mentally, emotionally, and how we fight and defend our nation.
Not everyone can find that new normal. Countless servicemembers and veterans of all eras carrying the invisible and visible wounds from their time in service; many just trying to make it through each day or struggling to find a normal that makes sense to them and their families. Some do not survive the process.
Their struggles are real. Their lives have value. There is hope.
An Improved Response
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, a good time to appreciate how far we’ve come as a nation in understanding the invisible wounds of service for members diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma.
The VA and DoD have made great strides over many years, working with Congress and stakeholder groups like MOAA to increase funding for research, programs, and services to help mitigate the consequences of these invisible wounds — efforts aimed at providing help and hope for servicemembers and veterans trying to regain control and predictability in their lives.
Watch the below video (or click to see it here) of Ramón “CZ” Colón-López, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he and his wife share their struggles and what DoD is doing to help servicemembers and their families cope and find hope.
His message, along with those of other senior officials, is part of DoD’s Connect to Protect suicide prevention campaign. The department’s overall message:
“We encourage you to take steps in September and year-round to Connect to Protect with Service members and military families. We cannot do it alone. Please join us during September by participating in suicide prevention activities and programs. There are dozens of ways to spread suicide prevention messages during September and beyond.”
Similarly, VA’s Be There campaign reminds veterans and their loved ones that small actions can make a big difference to veterans going through difficult times.
MOAA’s legislative advocacy efforts remain focused on improving mental health and suicide prevention programs and services for all those in uniform, veterans, and their family members.
Several key mental health and suicide bills have been introduced in the 116th Congress. MOAA and other stakeholder organizations are working diligently with lawmakers to get many of these measures signed into law before the end of the congressional session in December.
Meanwhile, we ask MOAA members and interested individuals to engage with DoD’s and VA’s suicide awareness and prevention campaigns. Reach out and connect with someone in need – let them know you care and offer to help them connect to lifesaving, life-changing resources:
- Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or via veteranscrisisline.net
- Military OneSource (mental health resources)
- Connect to Protect suicide prevention campaign
- Be There campaign
In addition, a five-minute survey will help a multiagency effort to combat suicide among veterans, with results used to determine where resources should be deployed and how those in trouble can access the care they need.
Servicemembers, caregivers, veterans, military family members, VA employees, and others can take the survey, which is part of the President's Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) program. Under an executive order signed in March 2019, PREVENTS aims to coordinate suicide-prevention efforts from the VA and other organizations, both within and outside of the government, to create an “aspirational, innovative, all-hands-on-deck approach to public health.”