Members of the AVER Georgia Chapter and active duty personnel from Outserve met at the Atlanta VA Medical Center on April 27th for a presentation of Operation S.A.V.E., the VA’s Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training program. Carlo Domingo, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the VA and the Suicide Prevention Case Manager for the Atlanta VAMC, conducted the training along with other members of the VA staff. Mr. Domingo participated in AVER Georgia’s Pride program last October and expressed his desire to perform S.A.V.E. training to a targeted LGBT audience. Saturday’s program was the result of his collaboration with AVER Georgia in designing a suicide prevention program tailored specifically to LGBT veterans.
Operation S.A.V.E. is the VA’s answer to a congressionally mandated Act passed in 2007 requiring the Veterans Administration to implement a comprehensive suicide prevention program to deter the epidemic of suicide among America’s veterans. VA statistics show that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as non-veterans. According to a recent VA study approximately 22 veterans take their own lives every day. A number of studies show that far more Vietnam veterans have taken their own lives than were killed in the Vietnam War. Although there are no statistics on the suicide rates of LGBT veterans, it can be inferred from the overall higher rates of LGBT suicide in the population as a whole that suicide rates for veterans in our community are higher than the general veteran population.
S.A.V.E. is an acronym for the components of the program: Signs, Ask, Validate, and Encourage. Be aware of the signs of suicide. Ask is someone is thinking about taking his or her life. Validate the veteran’s experience, without trying to “fix” the problem, and without judgment. Encourage the veteran to seek help and expedite a referral.
One of the key components of the S.A.V.E. program is the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255. The presentation included a short video of Crisis Line staff speaking about the service which operates on a 24/7 basis. The VA credits the Crisis Line with saving the lives of thousands of veterans.
The S.A.V.E. program presentation on April 27th marks the first time that AVER and Outserve have met directly with the VA in Georgia. As a Veterans Service Organization, we are very pleased to open these doors with the VA and begin to address the challenges of LGBT veterans and active duty service members directly with the VA. This program was a very important first step for AVER Georgia in developing a working relationship with the VA.
It should be noted that one of AVER’s members, a former US Marine Drill Instructor, asked about assistance for active duty service members, particularly for one of her sons currently serving in the Air Force and experiencing some of the signs of PTSD. Although the VA has begun to address the epidemic of suicide among veterans it appears that the active duty military may still be lagging behind on providing effective support to active military personnel. It has been reported that in recent years more active duty service members have taken their own lives than were killed by the enemy. This is a serious crisis that the DOD needs to more thoroughly and expediently address.
What can AVER and Outserve members do to help prevent suicide among our fellow LGBT veterans and service members? LISTEN. Listen when someone needs to talk. Turn off your devices, and be present. Let them talk, without interrupting, without judgment, and without trying to “fix” the problem. Take the time to listen and care. Being genuinely present with another human being in their time of need is largely becoming a lost art. One of AVER’s greatest strengths as a chapter-based organization is our ability to meet with each other and be there for a fellow vet. We can be the healing for someone who is carrying around a lot of pain. No one else can understand. For some vets the war never ends. We had their back then. We have to have it now.
Danny Ingram, National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights