North Country Veteran and Active Service-Member Suicide Prevention Coalition

Alexandria Bay, NY

I attended my first suicide prevention outreach in support of the Carthage VFW's suicide walk along with several other members of the North Country Veteran and Active Service-Member Suicide Prevention Coalition. John B. Lyman American Legion Post 904 set up a table and had members of its entire Legion Family at the event, along with the Carthage American Legion and the Carthage VFW. I am new to the outreach and was looking forward to meeting the leaders in the effort in my community. I learned that this coalition is a group made up of many working toward the same goal.

Their mission statement: "The North Country Veteran and Active Service-Member Suicide Prevention Coalition is a collection of Service Organizations and individuals dedicated to preventing suicide, reducing high-risk behaviors, and promoting a resilient veteran and active-duty community through education and awareness of resources."

Their Vision Statement: "Our Vision is to create a Zero Suicide Community through educational campaigns to

teach how to intervene, and reduce the stigma of talking about Suicide, lethal means safety, and increase awareness of resources available to Veterans and Service Members."

The walk had participants from the coalition, which is made up of VA, Fort Drum, the VETS center, Jefferson County, local VSOs and community crisis workers. All the various agencies, groups and volunteers work together to address the problem of veteran and servicemember suicide.

William (Bill) Van Orman is the suicide prevention program manager on Fort Drum and gave me something that has really stuck with me.: "We don't need to destigmatize the asking for help. We never ask for help, do we? If we see a mom struggling with the door of her car, her kid and her groceries, we open it. If we see an old neighbor struggling to clear his walk, we do it. They don't ask - we recognize they need help and we offer it. We need to destigmatize our offering of help."

Wow! That really made sense to me. I have been struggling to understand how I can answer the call to Be the One and this sounded like a way to help. Kaitlynn Tredway, from the VA suicide prevention outreach, made an offer of 'gatekeeper' training at the post. She explained that "they are meant to train everyone in the community as a 'gatekeeper.' Essentially teaching community members how to identify warning signs of suicide, and then what to do once you have identified someone who may be at risk for suicide."

She further explained, "The gatekeeper training we offer at VA is the VA S.A.V.E. Training or 'Operation S.A.V.E.' It is a program focused on preventing suicide attempts and saving lives that might otherwise be lost to suicide. It is designed to train everyone who knows a veteran to be a 'gatekeeper.' The role of gatekeepers is connecting those at risk for suicide with people who can help them. The training reviews the scope of veteran suicide within the United States, knowing how to identify a veteran who may be at risk for suicide, and then knowing what to do when you identify a veteran who may be at risk for suicide."

I am going back to my post and asking membership to support a training session in the post home, and to invite the community and this coalition to attend. I believe people would offer help if they knew what to look for and were confident in what to do. I argue that when people are seen standing on the wrong side of a bridge, people always offer help because at that moment they know they are needed. Expanding everyone's skills to know someone is standing on the wrong side of the bridge and is asking for help will help empower that person to offer help.