By Judith Johnson-Mekota / Guest Column
As we enter the new year, the holidays are behind us and the gatherings with friends and family are receding into memories. Our vigilance about suicide, however, needs to remain sharp. People who struggle during the holiday season are still struggling today, many even more so.
Veterans who have served our country with pride need our help now more than ever. It is time to know the signs of veterans in crisis and know how to help when the time comes. The VA is here to assist in that effort, and we know that we cannot do it alone. This is a problem that will only be solved with the whole community involved.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the VA Health Care System in Iowa City are on a mission to end suicide among veterans in communities across America, including here in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. As a part of that, we have launched the #bethere campaign to connect communities with valuable resources for helping those in crisis.
Approximately 14 of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day are not receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration. We need your help to reach them. We invite you to share your insights, experiences and resources to shape public health initiatives that support veterans at risk. One veteran suicide is one too many.
VA works with hundreds of organizations and corporations at the national and local levels, including veterans service organizations, local businesses and religious organizations to raise awareness about suicide prevention programs. These partners have regular contact with veterans as well as active duty service members, reservists, National Guard members and their families. By reaching out to help, communities can send the message that they value these individuals and their service.
Organized events are a great way for our partners to advance this critical national goal of ending veteran suicide. By promoting veteran-focused resources in your community at events such as job fairs and wellness expos, you can help us reach all veterans. Connecting with fellow veterans to spread the word about mental health and suicide prevention resources makes veteran wellness a community priority.
If you are hosting a community event in your area, the VA would love to partner with you. Reach out to us at (319) 338-0581, ext. 7104 if you are interested in developing our partnership to #bethere for veterans and service members who are struggling.
Veterans, family members and care providers can initiate a free and confidential conversation with an experienced and caring VA responder by calling the Veterans Crisis Line. If you are concerned about the safety and well-being of a veteran, call (800) 273-8255 and press 1. Chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat to get support anonymously. A text message can also be sent to 838255 to connect to a VA responder. These resources can be used even if a veteran is not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
Judith Johnson-Mekota is director of the Iowa City VA Health Care System.