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Stay in Touch with the Veterans in Your Life

By: US Senator James Lankford

Veterans Day represents an opportunity to thank our heroes and reflect on how our nation serves those who served us. Some of our veterans and their families are suffering from the health effects of COVID-19, while many also are suffering from the isolation and loneliness caused by social distancing and heightened precautions for those who are in high-risk categories. Isolation can breed despair, but outreach, connection, and love can counter depressing thoughts and loneliness. Our churches and community groups continue to bring people together and help support healthcare providers to remain engaged with victims of mental illness, even while we’re apart. As individuals and families, we should do what we can to help veterans around us.

As much as we celebrate and show our appreciation for our veterans, I also would like our families to consider how we can help our veterans who struggle with mental illness, particularly suicidal thoughts. There are resources to find support when feeling anxious or alone.

For anyone in our nation—anyone—who is having suicidal thoughts, please call 9-1-1 or the 24/7 suicide crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (T-A-L-K). If you are a veteran, please select option 1 for a VA staffer. You may also send a text message to 838255.

Alarmingly, 45,390 American adults were victims of suicide in 2017, including 6,139 veterans, which represents 16 heroes per day. Since 2017, the VA has actively worked to coordinate numerous suicide prevention services across the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs), the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.

Oklahomans have stepped up to the plate to help as well. There are many—and I mean many—truly wonderful organizations in Oklahoma and around the country that help connect veterans with resources and provide opportunities for anyone to help serve our heroes. One great example is Broken Arrow’s own, Terry Hill, and his #RAGFriday initiative. Terry is an owner of Rapid Application Group (RAG), the only Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned additive manufacturer in the United States. I had the honor of visiting RAG and meeting Terry—with service dog, Jonesy, by his side—about RAG’s work and about the initiative he started to turn the isolation and suicidal thoughts he once felt after he left service into positive, proactive action to help his fellow veterans.

Terry and his volunteers utilize the hashtag to draw attention to our heroes still serving and those who served and may face—or sadly have faced—battles once they return home. Terry maintains a network of veterans he and his volunteers contact to proactively ensure they’re not alone and to just check in and say hi. I certainly encourage anyone to get involved in a veteran-support organization like #RAGFriday. But this Veterans Day, I challenge each of us to consider proactively reaching out to a veteran you may know just to see how he or she is doing. Call him or her on the phone or use your favorite video-calling app. If it’s safe to do so, wear your mask, and go say hi. Texts are okay, but hearing someone’s voice can really be uplifting.

Let’s commit to serving our veterans in this time as they so selflessly served to protect us and our freedoms.