Opinion: We should all check in on America’s warriors

Veterans Day should remind us to connect regularly with our vets.
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Greenwood salutes during a Veterans Day event at Soldier Field on Nov. 11, 2022, in Chicago. Veterans Affairs plans to slash reimbursements for the ambulances that transport veterans to medical facilities. (Michael Blackshire/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Sgt. 1st Class Keith Greenwood salutes during a Veterans Day event at Soldier Field on Nov. 11, 2022, in Chicago. Veterans Affairs plans to slash reimbursements for the ambulances that transport veterans to medical facilities. (Michael Blackshire/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Against the backdrop of Suicide Prevention Month in September, a troubling story emerged that the national Veterans Crisis Line bungled a call by a veteran in distress – failing to properly respond or report the event. The Texas man ultimately died by suicide.

He is not just another statistic, but instead part of a troubling reality in which veterans die by suicide at a much higher rate than civilians. Per a recent USA Today report, those figures are especially troubling for young men, where the unadjusted rate of veteran suicide of those age 18 to 34 increased by a staggering 95 percent over the last 20 years. For veterans under 45 – predominantly those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan – suicide is the second leading cause of death.

This is to say nothing of the many “gray area” deaths associated with substance abuse or other anomalies.

Frank Larkin is the new COO of Troops First Foundation.

Credit: Warrior Call

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Credit: Warrior Call

I lost my son Ryan, a SEAL, to suicide and have seen firsthand the pain invisible wounds impose on the brave men and women who serve this nation. I have also seen the gaps in coverage. The failure of the crisis line in Texas to adequately help that man comes as no shock to those of us working on the front lines to combat the challenge. Yet it also raises the need for those in Georgia and across the country to do their part to stem issues before they become catastrophic.

Many leaders and politicians focus downstream on matters like firearm safety, yet there is a critical need to move upstream to the many precursors to suicidal ideation among veterans, who face unique challenges compared to civilians – including, increasingly, traumatic brain injury. These include marital, legal, work and personal challenges similar to civilians, yet often wrapped in different stigmas given military culture. At the heart of many of these obstacles is a sense of isolation, supported by the fact that two-thirds of veterans who die by suicide in the U.S. have had no contact with support services like the VA.

As simple as it sounds, this is the motivation behind the Warrior Call campaign, which is supported in Congress by both senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of the Peach State. It asks Georgians and Americans alike to reach out to veterans and servicemembers, connect with them and provide support if needed.

The measure maintains the support of leading veteran organizations, all living former VA Secretaries, Medal of Honor recipients and more. While by no means the sole solution to this dynamic challenge, Warrior Call can help. Its mission is to grow connections and increase positive outcomes among troops and veterans.

It is now incumbent on everyday Georgians to recognize this problem, acknowledge the work of their leaders and join their elected leaders in taking simple yet meaningful action: make a call to a military member or veteran and build a meaningful relationship with him or her. Be a battle buddy, listen to that individual and see if he or she needs help from professional services. If it sounds simple, it is; yet it is important and one call can change a life.

The roughly 625,000 veterans in Georgia are best equipped to engage, given the benefits of peer-to-peer connection.

The work of Georgia’s federal delegation is centered on National Warrior Call Day on Nov. 12, 2023, yet every day can be Warrior Call Day for those committed to the cause.

The goal is purposeful and repeated outreach, ideally habitually but at least for one day on November 12th.

Ultimately, a lot of the public does not really understand the issues veterans are dealing with. Warrior Call is a way to invite them in, and give veterans a way to get connected again.

Government programs matter, but individuals play a larger role than they realize. The power to save lives rests with us, and we can no longer sit idly as we watch suffering and loss around us. Reach out to the veterans in your life, today, tomorrow, on Veterans Day and on November 12.

Frank Larkin is chief operating officer of the Troops First Foundation and chair of Warrior Call. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Secret Service. Follow Warrior Call on Facebook and X.