When Air Force veteran Jeremy Parkins left active duty in 2005, he found the transition to civilian life to be a particularly difficult process.
“I went through a rough transition because I didn’t have the support and resources I needed,” said Parkins, the founder and president of Dress, Right, Dress, Inc., a non-profit based in Ross County that works to aid military veterans who struggle with the transition to home life the same way he did 15 years ago. “Some of these guys have a really hard time, and it leads to stints in jail, depression, homelessness and increased rates of suicide.”
On September 19, Dress, Right, Dress (DRD), is hosting its Second Annual “Combat: Veteran Suicide” Dining-Out fundraiser event at the Chillicothe Country Club. Tickets are currently on sale for $50 apiece and can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event will feature guest speakers from the veteran community and a plated dinner that will follow appropriate social distancing guidelines.
Parkins said the inspiration to do a veterans’ suicide event came after seeing national statistics released by the VA.
The rate of suicide nationally is 1.3 times higher for male veterans and 2.2 times higher for female vets than the national average. The highest rates of veteran suicides are among males between the ages of 18-to-34 – which largely represents the veterans transitioning back to civilian life post-service.
After combating his own struggles during his first years after active duty, Parkins went to college to study criminal justice and began a career in corrections in 2011.
“Working in the correctional field, I started seeing many veterans who were suffering from the same fate,” he said. “My first idea was just to design a T-shirt I could sell to raise funds that would be a way to give back to the veteran community.”
That initial charitable idea in 2016 grew and expanded over the next three years into the non-profit organization that today is DRD.
“We want to widen the gap between service and incarceration,” Parkins said. “We have peer-guided programs that are all veteran-to-veteran, including our Justice Involved Veterans and Mentors and Transitioning Service Members.”
In 2018, DRD formed a partnership with NAMI Southern Ohio, the affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness that serves Highland, Fayette, Pickaway, Pike and Ross counties as a contracted service provider of the Paint Valley ADAMH board. Through this partnership, DRD added a much-needed mental health focus to the services the organization offered.
“We want to reduce the mental health stigmas that veterans face,” Parkins said. “We want to focus on prevention and encourage mental health care, and through that decrease the suicide rates.”
More about the organization and the “Combat: Veteran Suicide” event can be found at Facebook.com/dressrightdressinc.
Lance Cranmer is the NAMI Southern Ohio executive director.