SSgt. Barry Sadler in his 1966 hit record “Ballad of the Green Beret” called them “America’s best,” who often faced the specter of death in combat, but for reasons known only to them, 20 per day nationwide will choose to end their own lives.
That is the issue the Highland County Veterans Service Office (HCVSO) wants to place in the forefront during the Silent Watch event planned for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14. on the grounds of the Highland County Courthouse in Hillsboro.
This will be the first such event for Highland County, with all 88 Ohio county’s being challenged to hold a Silent Watch observance.
Stephanie Roland, outreach coordinator for the HCVSO, said that volunteers — whether veterans or not — are invited to commit themselves to standing a silent watch for about 20 minutes beside a flag-draped coffin throughout the day on Saturday to draw awareness of the number of suicides among the nations’ service personnel, young and old alike.
“We’re attempting to partner with several agencies in and around Highland County that help with mental health,” she said. “We’ve actually got quite a few people who have volunteered to step up and stand guard with us on Saturday.”
According to figures released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, former service personnel account for 14 percent of all suicides nationwide, with 2.6 percent of that percentage occurring in the 55-70 age group, and younger demographics experiencing a 4.5 percent suicide rate.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Roland said the specific goal of Silent Watch is to heighten awareness of the extent of the problem of veteran suicides in conjunction with the monthlong observance.
While not a former service member, Roland said she feels much of the problem stems from the traumatic events that happen in everyone’s life, including veterans, and that each person handles it differently.
“Something that might seem like a minor inconvenience to one person could be a lifelong impact event on another,” she said. “Being able to help understand and know the signs of someone who is in distress, and just being there to help them through it or being there just to listen goes a long way to helping them get through the situation.”
The Chillicothe VA Medical Center is addressing the problem by hosting a mental health first aid workshop Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to provide service members, veterans, their families and those serving them with the skills to recognize signs of stress, and to provide support.
The registration deadline for the workshop is Sept. 11, and registration is free by going to www.cvent.com/d/7yqfhfI. It’s supported by the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, Paint Valley ADAMH Board and the Ohio National Guard, according to the Chillicothe VA.
The 2019 motto through the suicide prevention hotline is #BeThere, and Roland said two years ago it was #ThePowerOfOne, which she said left a huge personal impression.
“It’s so true, the power of one person can make such a huge difference in someone else’s life,” she said. “Just being there, showing your support, letting them know that you’re there for them, that you’ve got their back can mean so much.”
To participate in the inaugural Highland County Veterans Silent Watch, contact Roland or Veterans Service Officer Cailin Hoskins at 937-393-8686.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.