SAVING VETERANS’ LIVES

Each year, thousands of veterans die by suicide while adjusting to life back at home. We’ll take you inside a program enlisting vets to save one another.

Aired on November 11, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

A SOMBER STATISTIC.

ACCORDING TO THE U.S.

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, EVERY DAY ABOUT 20 VETERANS DIE BY SUICIDE.

A TRAGIC SITUATION.

HOWEVER, ONE ORGANIZATION IS TAKING A BIG STEP TO COMBAT THIS EPIDEMIC.

THE INDEPENDENT FUND IS STRIVING TO EMPOWER VETERANS TO OVERCOME PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL WOUNDS AS A RESULT OF THEIR TOUR OF DUTY.

BY TEAMING WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, THE FUND HAS LAUNCHED ED OPERATION RESILIENCY, A PROGRAM WITH PROMISE FOR THOSE WHO CAME HOME SUFFERING FROM PTSD AND MENTAL ILLNESS.

HERE WITH DETAILS ARE TWO SOLDIERS WHO JUST COMPLETED THE OPERATION RESILIENCY PROGRAM.

VETERAN ARMY STAFF SERGEANT AL ALEX JAUREGUI AND MAJOR ADAM ARMSTRONG, BOTH PARATROOPERS WITH BRAVO COMPANY.

THEY JOIN ME NOW.

GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

ABSOLUTELY.

WHAT IS OPERATION RESILIENCY?

SO OPERATION RESILIENCY, AS YOU STATED, A JOINT VENTURE BETWEEN THE INDEPENDENCE FUND AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS.

AND WHAT IT FOCUSES ON FOR CONTEXT, AS WE CAME OUT, FOR EXAMPLE, DEPLOYED IN '09-'10 TO AFGHANISTAN WITH A PRETTY ROUGH TIME IN TERMS OF FIGHTING AND COMBAT CASUALTIES.

THEN THE UNIT REDEPLOYS AND EVENTUALLY EVERYBODY GOES SORT OF DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.

MAYBE SOME GET OUT.

MAYBE SOME GO TO OTHER UNIT, AND A SMALL AMOUNT STAY IN THAT UNIT.

SO THE PARATROOPERS ARE REALLY DON'T HAVE A WHOLE LOT OF TIME TO REFLECT UPON WHAT EXPERIENCES THEY JUST HAD AND THE REASONS FOR WHY THEY HAD THEM.

THEY GO ON WITH THEIR LIVES.

THIS IS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY, WE THINK, POWERFUL THROUGH THE HUMAN CONNECTION, THE BONDS THAT THEY SHARED BACK THEN, A CHANCE TO REVISIT THAT, REFLECT ON IT, PERHAPS UNDERSTAND IT A LITTLE BIT BETTER.

AND THEN DEAL WITH OTHER THINGS THAT THEY'VE BEEN DEALING WITHER IN THEIR LIVES FOR THE LAST NINE YEARS.

SO WE'RE EXCITED ABOUT IT.

WELL, ALEX, WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE WITH OPERATION RESILIENCY?

THE FIRST DAY THAT WE DID IT WAS AMAZING TO WATCH THE GUYS HOW AT THE VERY BEGINNING, THEY WERE VERY RESERVED AND CLOSED.

AND THE MINUTE SOMEBODY BROKE THE ICE AND HEY, MAN, I'VE BEEN STRUGGLING, IT KIND OF OPENED THE DOOR, AND EVERYBODY STARTED OPENING UP AND TALKING ABOUT HOW THEY'VE BEEN STRUGGLING.

I THINK IT MADE THEM REALIZE YOU'RE NOT WEAK FOR ADMITTING THAT YOU'VE HAD SOME HARD TIMES.

AND THE OTHER PART THAT I THINK IS VERY IMPORTANT IS AS A WOUNDED VETERAN WITH VISIBLE WOUNDS, WE ARE VERY FORTUNATE TO GET A LOT OF SUPPORT FROM THE COMMUNITY, BUT THE GUYS THAT ARE COMING HOME WITHOUT VISIBLE WOUNDS, THEY GET OUT AND THEY ARE KIND OF LOSING THEIR IDENTITY, IF YOU WILL.

SO THEY DON'T GET THE THANK YOUS AND THE HUGS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T IDENTIFY THEM.

AND THEY WENT THROUGH JUST AS MUCH STUFF.

SOME OF MY FRIENDS HAVE BEEN THROUGH MORE STUFF.

IT'S REALLY AN AMAZING ORGANIZATION THAT IS ALSO FOCUSING ON THE WOUNDED AS WELL AS THE NONVISIBLE WOUNDED.

AND IS THAT REALLY THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ORGANIZATION'S EXPERIENCE TO BREAK DOWN THOSE WALLS OF PERHAPS ISOLATION THAT PEOPLE MIGHT FEEL?

THAT'S ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, MA'AM.

SO IT GETS DOWN TO SHARED VERSUS SAME EXPERIENCE.

SO THERE IS VETERANS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.

HIGH CASUALTY RATES ARE NOT UNIQUE, BUT THE ONLY ONES, OR THE ONLY UNIT THAT THESE GUYS EXPERIENCED THIS ONE WITH WERE THE FOLKS THAT WERE IN THAT UNIT.

SO THAT IS THE UNIQUE PART OF THIS PROGRAM IS THAT IT BRINGS TOGETHER THAT COMPANY WHERE THEY FORM THOSE EXTREMELY STRONG BONDS IN COMBAT, AND NOW MAYBE THAT ALLOWS THEM TO BE A LITTLE BIT MORE VULNERABLE BECAUSE THE TRUST ISN'T THERE.

THE HUMAN CONNECTION ISN'T THERE FROM WHAT THEY'VE ALREADY SHARED.

THE TEAM GOT THEM THROUGH IN THE DEPLOYMENT.

NOW THE TEAM CAN HELP TO GET US THROUGH FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

NOW THIS FEELS INCREDIBLY REVOLUTIONARY OF AN IDEA, EVEN THOUGH IT NECESSARILY SHOULDN'T BE.

AND I'M KIND OF WONDERING IF THERE WAS ANY PREVIOUS PROGRAMS THAT WERE DRAWN ON TO CREATE SOMETHING LIKE THIS, OR IS THIS BRAND, BRAND-NEW?

WELL, I DON'T REALLY KNOW IF THOSE PROGRAMS EXISTED.

THIS ONE CAME ABOUT BECAUSE OUR GUYS WERE AT A FUNERAL FOR ONE OF THE TWO SUICIDES THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE, AND WHEN THEY SAID HEY, WHEN IS THE NEXT TIME WE'LL SEE EACH OTHER, THERE WAS KIND OF A SOMBER MOMENT AND A REALIZATION THAT THAT MIGHT BE THE NEXT FUNERAL.

AND SO SARAH VERARDO, THE CEO OF THE INDY FUND WAS AT THAT FUNERAL AS WELL.

HER HUSBAND WAS AN MPT IN OUR COMPANY.

THAT'S THE IDEA THAT GREW UP TO BE PARTNERED WITH THE V.A.

TO HAVE SUCH A MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE FOR THESE GUYS, AND HOPEFULLY FOR MANY, MANY ORGANIZATIONS AFTER OURS.

ALEX, WHEN IT COMES TO, AS YOU WERE SAYING, THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE VISIBLE WOUNDS AND PEOPLE WHO DON'T HAVE VISIBLE WOUNDS, OR INVISIBLE WOUNDS, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU FIND WAS ONE OF THE MORE HEALING EXPERIENCES OF BEING ABLE TO SHARE WITH PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T HAVE THE VISIBLE WOUNDS, BUT ABLE THE STILL CONNECT WITH THEM AND SAY I STILL UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH, EVEN THOUGH THE PUBLIC ISN'T OBVIOUSLY SEEING IT?

LIKE I SAID, THE ONES WITH VISIBLE WOUNDS, WE'RE LUCKY TO HAVE THE COMMUNITY.

WE HAVE A LOT OF SUPPORT BY THE COMMUNITY, WHICH MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THE HEALING.

BUT YOU STILL GET TO A POINT WHERE YOU ISOLATE YOURSELF AND YOU START FACING YOUR INNER DEMONS AND STUFF.

FOR ME TO BE ABLE TO OPEN UP TO MY BROTHERS I SERVED WITH AND TELL THEM LOOK, MAN, I WITH US IN A REALLY TOUGH SPOT, AND I DIDN'T CALL YOU GUYS.

SO WE NEED TO GET BETTER AT THAT I THOUGHT WAS VERY REWARDING FOR ME, BECAUSE A LOT OF GUYS WE FOUND OUT THAT WERE IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS THAT ARE NOW SEEKING HELP FROM IT.

IS THIS THE KIND OF ORGANIZATION WHERE A LOT OF TIMES PEOPLE SAY WHEN SOMEONE IS IN CRISIS THAT REALLY THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN REALLY HELP THEM IS THEM?

IS THIS SOMETHING WHERE FAMILIES CAN REACH OUT AND SAY WE HAVE A RETURNING OF A VETERAN WHO HAS RETURNED AND THEY'RE STRUGGLING, OR IS IT SOMETHING WHERE THAT VETERAN NEEDS TO TAKE THAT FIRST STEP AND SAY I WANT TO RECONNECT.

I NEED THIS CONNECTION AGAIN?

YES, MA'AM.

SO THE FOCUS OF THIS IS HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE BOND OF THAT SMALL UNIT TO ASSIST THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE COLLECTIVE IN GETTING THROUGH AND COPING WITH THOSE TOUGH TIMES.

SO IF A UNIT WOULD LIKE TO BE A PART OF THIS, A WAY THAT THAT COULD HAPPEN IS BY THE COMMAND TEAM OR SOMEBODY FROM THE UNIT CONTACTING THE INDEPENDENCE FUND THROUGH THE INDEPENDENCEFUND.ORG OR THE V.A.

TO SUBMIT A NOMINATION FOR THEIR SMALL UNIT, AND THAT WILL BE LOOKED AT AND BASED OFF OF THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THAT KIND OF STRESS THAT THEY HOPEFULLY WILL BE AFFORDED THE SAME OPPORTUNITY.

ALL RIGHT.

AND ALEX, JUST WONDERING FOR YOURSELF, IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD SAY I GUESS ON A POSITIVE NOTE THAT HAS DEFINITELY CHANGED FOR YOU ONCE YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO REESTABLISH THESE CONNECTIONS?

JUST SEEING ALL THESE GUYS.

THEY SAY THE BEST THERAPY IS LAUGH, AND WE LAUGH SO MUCH OVER THE WEEKEND THAT WE CRIED AT SOME POINTS FROM LAUGHING SO HARD.

I THINK EVERYBODY AGAIN REALIZING THAT THEY WEREN'T GOING THROUGH ALL THIS STUFF ALONE AND THEY WEREN'T WEAK FOR HAVING THE EMOTIONS THEY'RE GOING THROUGH.

THE POSITIVE IS THAT EVERYBODY OPENED UP AND REALIZED THAT IT'S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.

AND IS THIS SOMETHING THAT WILL BE SERVING ALL BRANCHS TELEPHONE MILITARY?

YES, ABSOLUTELY.

ALL RIGHT, WILL LISTEN, ALEX AND ADAM, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR SHARING NOT ONLY YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH US, BUT DEFINITELY WITHIN YOUR UNIT AND MAKING SURE THAT OTHER UNITS HAVE THAT ABILITY TO RECONNECT WITH EACH OTHER.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OPERATION RESILIENCY, YOU CAN VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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