Suicide – a public health issue that is affects all Americans, with veterans among higher risk.
Ibar J. Romero Jr., American Legion Department of New Mexico service officer, was assisting a veteran with benefits when he noticed suicidal thoughts. Instead of telling the veteran to go to the local VA medical center for help, he drove the veteran in distress because he felt safe enough to do so.
“More qualified medical staff provided them the treatment that they so urgently required,” Romero said. “It was the most rewarding Uber ride back to the office because I had the peace of mind that the veteran was getting the best VAMC treatment they needed.”
Romero shared that if a veteran is comfortable with a service officer during the “kneecap to kneecap interviews, they may say certain things, statements or hints, about their state of mind, their well-being, and potentially suicide. If the veteran gave you a peek into their well-being and state of mind, they’re asking you to help them.
“You have to ask additional problematic questions. Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Have you ever tried to harm yourself before? Are you contemplating suicide? Are you thinking of dying or giving up? Do you own weapons or have access to them?
“Listen to them, be sensitive, be empathetic, be compassionate, be caring, but also be persistent. There are numerous agencies to assist you, so don’t attempt to handle crisis alone.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and mental health resources from the VA are available to support veterans, servicemembers and their families in need. The following are a few ways that Legionnaires, caregivers, friends and others can support veterans.
- Contact the VA Crisis Line. The crisis line connects veterans and their families and friends with qualified VA responders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
1. Call toll-free at (800) 273-8255 and then press 1;
2. Text the number 838255; or
3. Chat online at veteranscrisisline.net/chat.
- Share Make the Connection. Visit MakeTheConnection.net to discover an online resource that connects veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information and solutions to issues affecting their lives.
- Download suicide prevention materials. Visit BeThereforVeterans.com, which includes resources for making a difference, a message generator tool for connecting with loved ones using safe messaging, and prepared social media content for spreading the word. Other suicide prevention educational materials can be found at VeteransCrisisLine.net/support/shareablematerials.
"If a veteran gives you a suspicion or hint about harming themselves, it will prompt your need to ask more questions. Yes of course it is difficult, but we’ve all done difficult before," Romero said.