In August, the eighth annual AHERO Warrior Hook-Up Pensacola Beach was held to bring together veterans with patriotic members of our community and provide a relaxed atmosphere that would help the physical and psychological wounds of war and military service.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Dave Glassman described the event to me—“Wounded, injured and disabled veterans travel from all over the country to join our local veterans and citizens for a fun-filled, therapeutic, extended weekend on Pensacola Beach.”
Why? The daily suicide rate for military veterans is estimated at 18-22, which calculates out to over 8,000 annually. According to a report released last month by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, 325 active duty members died by suicide in 2018, the highest number since the Defense Department began collecting the data in 2001 and exceeding a record set in 2012.
A significant part of the AHERO Warrior Hook-Up is the testimonial dinner during which some of the participants share their struggles with PTSD, depression, thoughts of suicide and other health issues. At this year’s event, volunteer Tristessa Osborne started a testimonial journal to help those who weren’t comfortable going to the microphone to share their experiences. With the permission of those who transcribed their struggles, Tristessa shared the journal with me, and I published excerpts on my blog, ricksblog.biz, last week.
One veteran wrote that “not a day that goes by that I don’t contemplate suicide” and was grateful for the chance to fellowship with other veterans during the weekend—”AHERO gives us a weekend, a day, a few hours to breathe.”
A Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan wrote, “I have experienced IEDs, have had a TBI, suffer from PTSD and I strive to live on. The suicidal thoughts leave my brain now and encourage me to participate in the AHERO program … Here, I am mentally stable while experiencing good epiphanies every day!”
I encouraged readers of the blog to share comments. Sue Kirk wrote, “I sent a pretty broken and depressed fellow off on a plane last month to one of your hookups, and I was scared to death as to how he would do but had to let go for his sake. He came home so much better in mood, and I could see more of the son I sent overseas than I have in all the time I have been caring for him since his return.”
AHERO is not a magic silver bullet that cures PTSD but is a difference-maker. Please check out the organization at aherousa.org and consider supporting it. And if you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911 immediately.