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Stop Soldier Suicide, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in North Carolina, reveals an average of 22 veterans lose their life to suicide each day. This is reportedly more than double the amount of civilian suicides daily.
A national campaign known as Buddy Check 22 was created this year in an effort to decrease and eventually omit that number entirely. The idea is to reach out to a veteran on the 22nd of each month.
On Oct. 23, Dave Jarrett, veteran service officer for Disabled American Veterans Chapter 003 in Elizabethtown, took the program local when he sent an email to a network of several veterans and friends explaining what Buddy Check 22 was and how it helps veterans.
“The purpose is a reminder to make contact with one or more of those vets on the 22nd of each month,” he said in the email. “It does not have to apply to only the 22nd of the month. If you know of a veteran who lives alone and you normally see them at a VSO meeting, church or other regularly attended function but they are not there, give them a call or send an email to check on them.”
Jarrett said a lot of times veterans don’t have family in the immediate area. Veterans also tend to keep to themselves, he said.
“They don’t tend to reach out because it’s a sign of weakness,” Jarrett said.
Buddy Check is not gender-specific or even veteran-specific organization, he said.
“Make a list of people you know,” Jarrett said. “Make that a point to call them and check on them on that day. They really need to be checked on more than that.”
Jarrett said he receives a lot of calls from people who want to check up on a veteran, but he can’t always check on everyone.
“If they know of a veteran who is alone and doesn’t have family in the area, they need a support system to check up on them,” he said.
A similar check-up system soon may be incorporated in the local DAV chapter, according to Jarrett.
“I was not aware of the program until alerted by Dave,” said Travis Short Sr., a veteran and friend of Jarrett.
Short said he is debilitated by macular degeneration and unable to get around as well as others. He lives in a remote area in Tennessee where his interaction with his shipmates and fellow veterans is limited to the Internet, with some occasional get-togethers on very special occasions, he said.
“I think the Buddy Check is a great idea,” he said. “I stay in communications with at least a dozen former shipmates and veterans, and am pretty much aware of their well-being from day to day. I find that our common interests primarily relate to politics, military readiness and good-natured kidding. We support each other with profound and sincere friendship.”
Short and Jarrett were shipmates on the USS Sacramento (AOE-1) in the U.S. Navy. The two have remained close, exchanging emails and phone calls regularly and occasionally going on golfing excursions, Short said.
Jarrett has a personal experience with how important it is to check up on a veteran. A severely disabled veteran and member of the DAV chapter became vulnerable when his wife passed away a few years ago. That veteran had depended on her for care and most needs. Jarrett was asked to check on the veteran about a week after his wife had died.
“He had mistakenly set the heat mode to full heat on his thermostat and it was 70 degrees outside,” Jarrett said. “When I got to his house, I saw him and his dog through the glass storm door and both were in obvious distress. He motioned me in and when I opened the door I was almost blown back from the heat. It was 95 degrees in his house.”
Jarrett turned off his heat and called HVAC repair to come to his house immediately. The HVAC repairman discovered his furnace had a cracked heat exchanger and carbon monoxide was mixed in the hot air, entering his house from the furnace.
The veteran had very serious pulmonary problems and had a tracheotomy because of throat cancer, Jarrett said. Had he not checked on the man, the repairman informed him the veteran most likely would have been overcome with carbon monoxide and heat exhaustion.
Although the initial concern for Buddy Check 22 is veteran suicide, Jarrett said the check up should be for anyone, not just for a person with suicide risk. Anyone can take part in checking on veterans, he said.
Anna Taylor can be reached at 270-505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.