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Veteran's View: Vet suicide a tragedy in Minnesota; 'Warrior Call' can help

From the column: "People are encouraged to connect with a veteran or service member to create greater connectivity through simple yet meaningful action. Ideally, this occurs with great regularity, but we are also rallying around one day, Nov. 13, for all Americans to take part."

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Minnesota-based veterans and service members disconnected from support systems and contemplating suicide can now dial 988 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line for immediate help. Establishing the number was an effort spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., from the very onset.

New data from the Department of Veterans Affairs suggests the situation with suicide rates among veterans is murky. A report released this month by America’s Warrior Partnership, which collaborates with groups in Minnesota, says the federal government’s numbers are underestimated.

The figures are troubling regardless, including in Minnesota, where the suicide rate among vets is significantly higher than the general population. Moreover, the deaths of many veterans may not be counted as suicides in certain instances in which self-harm plays a critical role. These include deaths due to addiction, drug overdoses, or alcohol-induced incidents. While not strictly defined as suicide, these types of deaths are a statistical gray area.

And, as I have argued before, undiagnosed brain injuries are an area that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others in this arena must do more to address.

A key part of stemming this tragic trend is reducing isolation, a major corollary with suicide. Up to two-thirds of veterans who take their own lives have had no contact with the VA. Moreover, research notes that loneliness ranked higher than post-traumatic-stress disorder, disability, or psychiatric problems in contributing significantly to the risk of developing suicidal thinking.

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This is why so many leaders are embracing the Warrior Call initiative, in which people are encouraged to connect with a veteran or service member to create greater connectivity through simple yet meaningful action. Ideally, this occurs with great regularity, but we are also rallying around one day, Nov. 13, for all Americans to take part.

“Grassroots efforts are how we will be able to make a difference,” Gov. Tim Walz said through the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Warrior Call is just that.

Earlier this year, leaders in the U.S. Senate introduced a resolution to mark Nov. 13 as National Warrior Call Day. Sen. Klobuchar is a cosponsor, as are many more federal lawmakers from across the political divide.

“Everyone can play a supporting role in that effort, including members of our community, which is why I’m leading this resolution to encourage friends, family and neighbors to reach out to veterans around them,” lead cosponsor Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said in a statement. “It is on all of us to remind our hometown heroes that not only are we grateful for their service and sacrifice, but to make clear that they are not alone and have people around them to seek help from and rely on.”

Additionally, the day of action is endorsed by the nation’s leading vet service groups , all seven living former VA secretaries , and 27 Medal of Honor recipients .

The campaign’s motto calls on Americans, but especially those who have worn or are wearing the uniform, to make a call, take a call, and be honest. Pick up the phone or schedule a face-to-face and ask how a service member or veteran is doing. And, if needed, point the individual to resources . It may not be an easy conversation, but it could save a life.

The idea is borne out of years of touring military bases and speaking to those in service, who repeatedly tell us that conversation and a sense of togetherness are what keep them connected and focused on a hopeful future. Warrior calls empower families and communities to make connections — before their family member or friend is in crisis.

Minnesota service members and troops need our help. Make a call and take one, too, to make a difference.

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Frank Larkin of Annapolis, Maryland, is chief operating officer of the Troops First Foundation ( troopsfirstfoundation.org ) and chairman of the Warrior Call initiative ( warriorcall.org ). He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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Frank Larkin

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