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MAJ. CHRIS MERCADO
U.S. ARMY
Kansas
MAJ. CHRIS MERCADO MAJ. CHRIS MERCADO

HE PROVIDES A LIFELINE FOR VETERANS CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE

By Amanda Dolasinski
Photo by Heather Brulez

While walking through security gates at Honolulu International Airport, Chris Mercado picked up his cellphone just in time to take the most important call of his life.

'If this can only save one veteran’s life, then ... it would be worth it.'

Actually, since establishing Objective Zero — a suicide crisis app for veterans — in 2016, every call he receives is the most important. More than 9,000 servicemembers have used the app to talk or text with a peer ambassador during a time of distress.

“I’ll take calls at midnight, 1, or 2 in the morning,” said Mercado, a major who has served more than 20 years in the infantry with multiple deployments. “I’ll take them whenever or wherever I am. If we weren’t here, there would be a lot of people who would be struggling.”

Objective Zero was developed by Mercado after he intervened to stop a friend’s plan to take his own life in 2014. Mercado wanted to replicate the success of that phone call to help other veterans in distress.

With permission of his friend, Justin Miller, Mercado enlisted the help of researchers to understand the success of the phone call and how they could replicate it. They launched the Objective Zero app and trained peer ambassadors on basic suicide prevention so they could begin receiving calls and text messages on the app.

The app is meant to be a starting point, giving distressed veterans a familiar, understanding friend to chat with. Veterans can then be connected to licensed professionals for more in-depth assistance.

Unlike other veteran crisis lines, the calls and text messages can be anonymous. Veterans who use the app can also choose their peer ambassador by filtering through options, such as branch of service, officer or enlisted, and wars fought.

The app is free and available in 50 states and 25 countries. It received a grant from CITA Wireless Foundation, which provides funding to deserving organizations to advance innovative wireless technology. Mercado said Objective Zero will use the grant to develop a chat box function on the app that will ask users questions to precisely match them to an available ambassador.

“We said, when we launched the app, if this can only save one veteran’s life, then at a minimum, it would be worth it,” Mercado said.

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This material originally appeared in Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA PREMIUM and LIFE members.

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