Community Spotlight: Save A Vet Now works to raise awareness and prevent veteran suicide

Save a Vet Now is one of many non-profits struggling because of the pandemic

HAMPSTEAD, N.C. (WECT) - Every year, more than 6,000 veterans commit suicide. As if that number wasn’t alarming enough, more veteran lives are lost to suicide than are lost in combat.

That’s according to Save A Vet Now, a fairly new non-profit based in Hampstead.

Total and Daily Average Numbers of Suicide Deaths, Title 38 Veterans, 2005–2017.
Total and Daily Average Numbers of Suicide Deaths, Title 38 Veterans, 2005–2017. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

“Every day, 20 men and women, some mothers, some fathers are lost to suicide,” said Tony Vivaldi. “We raise awareness of the veteran suicides that are happening silently all around us. And that we’re making insufficient headway and keeping them from happening.”

Vivaldi, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is the founder of Save A Vet Now. Vivaldi started the non-profit July 2019. The non-profit was able to host its first fundraiser, give speeches, and solicit donations, but like so many others, the pandemic has set them back.

“All my speaking engagements from April on have all been canceled,” said Vivaldi. “We have no current plans for any in-person fundraisers now, this couldn’t happen at a more inopportune time.”

A major part of suicide prevention, Vivaldi says, is social connection.

“[Social distancing] causes feelings of isolation and anxiety, and if you lost your job, that only makes the situation even more stressful,” said Vivaldi.

The non-profit has partnered with Coastal Horizons to create the Coastal Horizons Veteran’s Outreach Program.

“Crisis intervention, substance use, behavioral mental health, you know, primary care,” said Justin Gibson with Coastal Horizons. “Anything of that nature that they just can’t get. We just want to make sure that they understand that Coastal is here and we’re offering those services.”

The program will provide those veterans seeking help with a chance to get treatment in and around the Cape Fear. A special fund at Coastal Horizons will help take off the financial burden so the veterans who need treatment, don’t have to worry about money.

“When I see an opportunity like this, where these two organizations are collaborating and partnering together to hopefully, you know, provide more coverage to individuals who need it,” said Gibson. “[Veterans] out there. They’re struggling. They don’t know who to reach out who where to go for help.”

Gibson is not only a Telemental Health Therapist for Coastal Horizons, he is also a veteran. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years and spent two tours in Afghanistan.

“When I was transitioning out of military, I was going through a lot of personal hardships,” said Gibson. “I was starting to really deal with that post traumatic stress disorder that was never diagnosed when I was in and I was still struggling with trying to find who I was.”

Gibson said he had isolated himself and turned to alcohol, but figured out that he needed to seek help.

“I lost a lot of my brothers and sisters who suicided as a result of struggling with these behavioral and mental health problems,” said Gibson. “For me it’s a huge thing to watch others struggle whenever I know it’s just as easy as just asking for help and reaching out.

Though there are many factors involved, Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a main contributor to suicide.

Annual Number of Veteran Suicides, 2005–2017.
Annual Number of Veteran Suicides, 2005–2017. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

“We cannot ignore that war is particularly traumatic, simply because of the intimate violence associated with its conduct,” said Vivaldi. He says some, at least initially, resist seeking treatment for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they don’t want public knowledge of their illness to interfere with them getting a job, or by extension, their ability to support their families.

“They fall back on their military training, and they make the decision to tough it out,” said Vivaldi. “But until they receive effective and meaningful treatment, they continue to experience anxiety attacks, flashbacks. They have nightmares and they relive these traumatic events over and over and over again. Ultimately, far too many of them. Embrace suicide is the only way out of their emotional and physical pain.”

To donate and learn more about Save A Vet Now, visit their website. You can also donate to Coastal Horizons, but you’re asked to include a note that the donation is for the veterans outreach program.

If you need immediate help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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