SAVING VETERANS’ LIVES

November 12, 2019 at 4:45 am

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.

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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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