K9 Partners for Patriots is a nonprofit in Brooksville for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). We exist to prevent veteran suicide, and our mission is to assimilate veterans back into society as contributing members.
We join the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board in its desire to “find more ways to identify and help veterans in distress,” but we doubt that “creating a national center” would bring us closer to reducing veteran suicide. According to the Veterans Health Administration, our government already operates 1,255 health care facilities including 170 VA Medical Centers nationwide.
And whether a proposed national center emerges in brick and mortar or in a virtual environment, either one may be misguided. In 2019 Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs announced the “Forward March” initiative “to unite the combined energy and resources of Florida’s state agencies, veterans’ service organizations, private partners and local communities.” For our state’s 1.5 million veterans, the effort was created to identify and share best practices.
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) in June 2020. Its purpose, the VA news release said, “is to raise awareness about mental health, connect veterans and others at risk of suicide to federal and local resources and facilitate focused and coordinated research into suicide.”
The VA noted that data continue to show 132 Americans, including 20 service members and veterans, die on average each day by suicide. And (former) VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stated: “Just as there is no single cause of suicide, no single organization can end veteran suicide alone. That’s why PREVENTS aims to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government and in the private sector to work side by side to provide our veterans with the mental health and suicide prevention services they need.”
The infrastructure is in place but, for our veterans not to feel like “a number” perhaps it needs more qualified professionals to properly support it. We hope to see the public and private sectors involved share best practices, break down the silos and initiate the conversations needed now. Waiting for the phone call to a crisis line is often too little, too late.
Ron Flaville is CEO of K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville.