Veteran suicide remains a problem, but a “warrior’s cry” can help.


The disconnection not only from VA services but from others is a fatal consequence for veterans across the country and in Tennessee. Seasoned proponents believe that warrior calls can make a difference.

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  • Frank Larkin is COO of the Troops First Foundation and Chair of the Warrior Call initiative.

Tennessee maintains one of the largest veteran populations in America, home to approximately 450,000 men and women who have served. However, as stated by the state Department of Veteran Services, “Only 220,000 of these veterans are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System and only 150,000 receive any type of benefits earned through military service.”

Separation from these critical services is often a major factor in veterans’ suffering and also in their taking their own lives. “What we found is that two-thirds of these veterans who take their own lives had no contact with the VA,” said US Senator Mark Warner from neighboring Virginia.

Despite recent attempts by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to call for progress on reducing suicide rates, the numbers remain worryingly high. Their numbers show that in 2020 – the latest data available – veterans are committing suicide at a 57% higher rate than non-veterans. In Tennessee, data shows that the suicide rate among veterans is significantly higher than that of the general civilian population.

Additionally, research from partners in the America’s Warrior Partnership says VA numbers underestimate the total by 2.4%.

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Here’s how you can help a veteran in need

Regardless, it is clear that, despite the increased awareness of the issue, more needs to be done. We need to go deeper into root causes — including when considering traumatic brain injuries — we need to better assess gray areas — including drug and alcohol addiction — and we need more meaningful public policies and funding to actually reach our veterans.

But we must also strive for the most important and feasible tool of all: connection.

The disconnection not only from VA services but from others is a fatal consequence for veterans across the country and in Tennessee. Seasoned proponents believe that warrior calls can make a difference.

This initiative encourages individuals — particularly active-duty and retired military members — to call a warrior with someone who has worn or currently wears the uniform and connect them with assistance if needed. These include the new 988 hotline number for those in need, as well as national veteran service organizations like Vets4Warriors or Tennessee groups like Vet to Vet Tennessee.

Connection can facilitate honest dialogue, inspire a desire to keep in touch, and help define a viable path forward. All it takes is a phone call or a personal check-in to pave the way to better connectivity.

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The resolution of the Warrior Call Day increases the problem

Time is of the essence in making these connections. In addition to post-traumatic stress, invisible wounds related to an underlying and undiagnosed traumatic brain injury can reflect many mental illnesses and trigger isolation and suicidal thoughts.

Furthermore, the moral injury a soldier might suffer from witnessing and participating in death and damage up close can do the same.

We recently celebrated Veterans Day and leaders in support of Warrior Call gathered on November 13 for National Warrior Call Day. These efforts have been supported by numerous veterans’ attorneys, Medal of Honor recipients and former Department of Veterans Affairs executives. A large contingent of senators also supported a resolution marking the Sunday after Veterans Day as Warrior Call Day.

As a clear call to action, Warrior Call also complements other initiatives, such as the Governor’s Challenge on Suicide Prevention, supported by Governor Bill Lee.

By recruiting Tennesseans and Americans, National Warrior Call Day can be part of our commitment to those who have served. It can make a difference. It can save lives.

Frank Larkin is COO of the Troops First Foundation and Chair of the Warrior Call initiative.

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