In the year after I left as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in late 2016, the nation lost an average of 17 veterans to suicide each day.
Despite the tireless work of community, health care and veteran partners and the bipartisan commitment of policymakers, this number has remained stubbornly consistent. According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 annually from 2008 to 2017.
Even as we mourn every life lost, I want you to know there is hope in addressing this tragedy. This is thanks to the convening role of government and the partnership of the private sector, led by organizations such as RallyPoint, where I am fortunate to serve as chairman.
I assumed this position in October 2017, shortly after leaving federal office. I chose this role in part because, as a 1975 West Point graduate and former infantry officer, I know RallyPoint is place where the military and veteran community can connect with people, programs and information that can help us all lead more successful and fulfilling lives.
It was also a way for me to carry on the fight against suicide among veterans and combat other issues that put our military and veteran families at risk. These include economic disparities and disconnection from VA care, housing insecurity and social isolation which are problems exacerbated by the set of new normal behaviors required to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Bob and David Gowel, CEO of RallyPoint at the 2019 Student Veterans of America National Conference
This is mission-driven work led by the next generation of veterans, such as RallyPoint’s CEO David Gowel, a 2002 graduate of West Point. Gowel and this team are using both traditional and cutting-edge techniques to save the lives of our comrades. In just eight years since its founding, here’s just some of what RallyPoint is doing to prevent suicide among our nearly 2 million members:
Even as I look forward to seeing results from these new and ongoing initiatives, a basic truth remains unchanged: You would not let a broken arm heal on its own, and you are not alone in caring for your mental health. If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can:
It takes strength and courage to reach out. As chairman of RallyPoint, I invite you to join our community to help us prevent suicide and save the lives of those who served.
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