Recently, I invited any of you in or near NYC to join myself and Army Week for a special screening of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 at HBO (who hosted the event). More than sixty people did show up, and enjoyed a nice reception, the screening, and a panel discussion on the crisis that is veteran suicide. The panelists included the producer of the documentary, Dana Perry; the chairman of the NYC chapter of The Soldiers Project, Jason Walter, LMSW; the founder of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, BG Loree Sutton (ret); and, suicide prevention program manager of the 99th Regional Support Command, Dr. Paul Wade. Most importantly, we had the audience.
Leaving aside my thoughts on several topics, I want to focus on the key point: doing something about veteran suicide. I will admit, the film brought out some conflicting emotions. It was good to see behind the scenes at the hotline center, and to know that they were able to talk some people down and get them help. It was good to know that they could, in some cases, cut through the BS at the VA and get people in to the right programs and people. I cringed at some of the questions they have to ask, especially those involving weapons -- and was somewhere between understanding and furious at a delay in treatment/intervention for a vet caused when paramedics had to wait for the police since there were weapons in the house. I do understand the need to see to the safety of responders, but...
The documentary was good, make no mistake. The panel discussion that followed, along with the audience participation, was amazing. The short version is that the panelists and the audience agreed that more needs to be done. The lack of trust in the system was understood by all, as was the need to find ways to restore that trust. Further, the fact that the current outlook by the DoD that robs troops of being involved and a contributor to their unit and the DoD if they admit to having a problem -- now and forever -- needs to be eliminated as it does prevent people from seeking help. Having a soldier in the audience stand up and talk about how he almost became a statistic because of the system, and having a panelist talk about losing their spouse to suicide because they trusted the system, hit home.
Two key points came out that I want to share. One, the current mindset within DoD sucks. As the soldier in the audience pointed out, troops are sent to the dentist twice a year but there is nothing done to deal with preparation for or treatment of combat stress and related issues. Two, the national hotline is the current frontline, and that sucks too. BG Sutton is right, the frontline needs to be in the community, both the military community and the local community where our troops live. If you truly want to make a difference, the only place it can and will be made -- and made well -- is local.
If you lived in the area and didn't come out, you missed out. If you want to learn more about Army Week, then come out to this event on Wednesday. Sorry for the FB link, but TypePad has been having issues from an attack and I still can't post images.