The Fight to Prevent Veteran Suicide

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The return to civilian life can be an extreme challenge for men and women who have served in the military, veteran Jim Lorraine says.

“What you have to understand, when you move from the military back into the civilian world, you’re really not just changing a job, you’re changing a culture,” explains Lorraine, president of America’s Warrior Partnership

America’s Warrior Partnership works to build relationships with veterans and provide them with the tools and support they need to succeed after their military service. The veteran organization uses a four-step plan to connect, educate, advocate, and collaborate with veterans and prevent veteran suicide. 

Unfortunately, Lorraine says “there’s people around you who have served in the military, especially Vietnam-era veterans, who didn’t have a good reception when they came home and now is the time to give them a good reception when they come home and make sure that they’re taken care of too.” 

Lorraine joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his own journey of adjusting back to civilian life after over 20 years of military service, and to explain how America’s Warrior Partnership is working to prevent veteran suicide. 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: Today, I’m honored to be sitting down with a veteran who is dedicating his time to serve other veterans, coming alongside them to prevent veteran suicide. Jim Lorraine is an Air Force combat veteran. He served as the founding director of the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition and as special assistant for Warrior and Family Support to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And today, Jim is president of America’s Warrior Partnership. Jim, thanks for being with us today.

Jim Lorraine: Virginia, thank you for having us. I really appreciate it.

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Allen: Well, Jim, you are a veteran. And first, I just want to thank you for your service. How long did you serve?

Lorraine: I served 22 years, a couple of years in the Reserves and then the rest of my time in active duty and both in the Air Force. I was an Air Force Nurse Corps officer. So I’m a nurse by trade.

Allen: And during your time in the Air Force, where were you stationed?

Lorraine: I started out in Biloxi, Mississippi. So they took this kid out of Central New York who’d never been south of Washington, D.C., and sent me to Biloxi, Mississippi. And I spent a few years there and then I went from there to Frankfurt, Germany, and had one of the best assignments of my life. I flew aeromedical evacuation all around Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

And then from there I went to another unit that flew aeromedical evacuation, flew patients out of combat zones. It was based out of Pope Air Force Base. I ended up in Mogadishu, Haiti, Desert Shield/Storm, lots of things, lots of deployments.

And then from there I went to run aeromedical evacuation around the country, around the world, and lived in St. Louis, Illinois. From there, I went to the Pentagon. I served as a fellow to the chairman of the joint staff.

And then my final assignment, I finished it as a deputy commander, deputy surgeon, at United States Special Operations Command down at SOCOM and had the pleasure of working for the best forces in the United States military, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, special operations folks. Yeah, I had a wonderful time.

And then from there I left. And you mentioned about the Care Coalition. That was a civilian—I retired from active duty and I was hired immediately back to found a program that advocated for all wounded, ill, or injured special operations people, forces for life. And we did a great job and it really is the model for what we do at America’s Warrior Partnership.

Allen: Well, tell us a little bit about the work of America’s Warrior Partnership.

Lorraine: America’s Warrior Partnership uses [a] model. It’s four steps. It’s called Connect. So connect with a veteran and connect with the community. Educate the veteran and educate the community, advocate for the veteran, and then collaborate with everyone. Those four steps we’ve used to replicate our model in nine communities throughout the United States, and that’s our local work.

On the national level, what we do on the national level, we have a program called The Network. And what The Network does is it works with communities and veterans to bring national resources to them.

… One of our communities is the Navajo Nation of Arizona. If I have a veteran in the Navajo Nation and they need help and it’s not available within their community, then what we do is we reach back to our nonprofit partners and our government partners and we make sure that we bring services to them.

And one of our big partners, and you probably know the name of Gary Sinise, but the Gary Sinise Foundation works very closely with us. Wounded Warrior Project works very closely with us. Our focus is to bring those resources together.

And last year we did about 5,000 cases, and they’re usually the toughest that you have. And we have a 92% success rate in solving the problem.

And what we are, what The Network is, it’s called America’s Warrior Partnership Network, what The Network is, it’s really, it’s the one call that a veteran can make no matter who they are, where they live, and get help. And they can contact us through our website.

Again, we have a really high success rate because what we’re doing is understanding who the veteran is and what they need, and then connecting them to that resource and making sure that they get it.

Allen: That’s huge. Jim, help us understand, because I think for those who haven’t served, they might not quite understand what the adjustment is like back to civilian life. For those military members who retire, what is that process like and what are the challenges that most commonly our veterans face when they are trying to readjust to civilian life?

Lorraine: Yeah. Well, it’s a great question because we hear it a lot. People say, “Well, what’s the big deal about moving from one job to another job?” But what you have to understand, when you move from the military back into the civilian world, you’re really not just changing a job, you’re changing a culture. And so you’re moving from one culture into another culture that you really don’t understand.

One of the things that when I transitioned, my biggest struggle was knowing who to trust. And I’ll give you an example. When I was in the military and I walked into a room and the room was full of people in uniform, I knew everything about them just by the uniform they wore. Then, now flash into the civilian world and I walk into a room and everybody is wearing civilian clothes, there’s no markings. You don’t know who is who and you don’t know anything … you literally have to learn to talk to other people.

And that was one of the things for me, was, “Holy cow, I’m not sure who is surrounding me. And who can I trust? Who can’t I trust? Who’s going to deliver?”

In the military, one of the things that I always love was that we were all in it together and we were focused on the mission and you knew everyone was moving in that direction. The civilian world isn’t quite that way. And as I said, it’s a cultural change that happens, not just a job change.

Does that make sense?

Allen: It does. It makes sense.

You’ve worked with so many veterans, I know, over the years. Are there maybe one or two stories of folks that you’d be willing to share with us of veterans who have reached out to you-all, reached out to your organization, asked for help, and America’s Warrior Partnership has been able to really help those individuals in their time of need?

Lorraine: Yeah, I’ll tell you one and I’ll just use her first name, Virginia. Virginia served in Desert Shield/Storm. She was an Army logistics [noncommissioned officer], had gotten out of the military, was working as a nurse’s assistant. But she didn’t have health care and she got sick. And she got sick, big medical bills. She lost her house. She was living in her car and struggling. And she didn’t realize that she was eligible for VA health care benefits.

And that’s not surprising. About 40% of female veterans don’t consider themselves veterans. That’s why it’s important we advocate to the partners that we have to not ask if you were a veteran, but ask if you served in the military.

So with Virginia, she didn’t realize that she was eligible for VA health care. And so what happened was she was living in her car. She came to us and said, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t continue to live in my car. I’m homeless. I’d like to get out.” And what we did was we worked with Virginia, we got her enrolled in the VA so she could continue her health care at no cost. We got her into temporary housing. We moved her into training. She had to get recertified. She wanted to stay in the health care world.

Got her retrained, got her certified, kept her in her apartment. She moved on, she got her degree, she got a better job. She used her VA home loan and bought her own house. And that was over about a three-year period. Huge success.

Allen: So, much of the work that you-all do centers around that prevention of suicide, and as you know, there’s a Brown University study that found that over 30,000 veterans have died by suicide since 2001. That’s more than the number that have died in combat. For those families who have lost loved ones, who have lost those who have served, whether by suicide or serving our nation in combat, do you-all do work to come alongside and support those families and give them tools and resources?

Lorraine: Yes, absolutely. And this weekend, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those families. I have many friends who have died, who died in combat, and tragically more that have died since we left Afghanistan, sadly, poorly, a couple of years ago. And it’s gotten worse. And it doesn’t change for these families. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter when they lost their loved one, they lost their loved one.

So there are a lot of resources that we use. I think for surviving families, our biggest partner is a program called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, led by my good friend Bonnie Carroll. And TAPS has been there. She’s a survivor herself. Her husband was killed in a plane crash up in Alaska and she realized there were no programs that helped survivors and so she created it. And it is the program for those who are affiliated with the military to go to. So we use that for the families. We also use a program that’s run by the Red Cross. It’s the Military Veteran Caregiver Network. They’re great programs.

Now, what I’m saying to you is that America’s Warrior Partnership, we’re focused on the relationship and understanding the problem, but we stay out of doing what somebody else does really well. And so we use partners extensively. There’s no need to replicate what’s already existing. And TAPS and the Military Veteran Caregiver Network are the best in their class.

And I just want to, if I can, I want to talk about that Brown study, which I did read. And I applaud them for doing the work. We have a similar study called Operation Deep Dive. Operation Deep Dive, our focus for Operation Deep Dive is to understand who the veteran is that’s going to take their life based on the community where they live so that we can move from fishing for those who are going to take their lives to hunting for them.

And what I mean by that is we want to know who the person is. Like I said, I’m in Hyannis, Massachusetts, right now. I want to know the veteran in the Cape Cod region who is most likely to take their life. What was their service like, what’s their age, how long have they been out, how long did they serve? And then I want to build a relationship with them before the crisis occurs. And it’s being proactive in getting ahead of the crisis and our Operation Deep Dive does that.

The thing about the Brown study is, with Operation Deep Dive, we did some work and we released an interim report in September of last year. And when we compared the VA’s numbers and information about the states and the same states that we were studying, which were eight states, what we found was that our numbers were 35% higher than what the VA had on their numbers.

And it wasn’t the VA. What’s happened in the community around death certificates is that there’s no way for coroners or medical examiners to really confirm whether somebody served in the military or not. What ends up happening is they don’t mark it on the death certificate and if it doesn’t get marked on the death certificate, it doesn’t feed up to higher reports. We took the death information from the states and merged data from the Department of Defense to confirm who actually served in the military and who didn’t.

And so, sadly, very sadly, I think there were numbers reported by Brown [that] are very low, are probably low by about 7,000.

Allen: As you’re talking, I know for myself and I’m sure for so many listening or reading this interview, the response is, “Wow, this is such a clear issue. And I feel, as a citizen, a little bit overwhelmed by it.” And the question arises, “Well, what can I do?”

Are there ways that you would suggest the American people can really get involved, can serve our veterans, and how can we partner with America’s Warrior Partnership?

Lorraine: I think the No. 1 thing I would say to your listeners is go to, our website, and read about The Network, understand it.

If you have a neighbor or if you have somebody who lives in your block, or if you have somebody who lives in your building or it’s a friend who served in the military and you don’t think that they’re doing very well, No. 1, do something. Just don’t let it go. Say something and say, “Hey, you don’t seem the same. Are you doing OK?” And if they’re struggling with things, the neighbor doesn’t have to fix it. They can say, “Hey, there’s an organization that can help you and it’s America’s Warrior Partnership.”

That’s the No.1 thing. No. 2, … it goes along with that, is, if you know a veteran, just reach out to them and say, “Hey, how are you doing?”

Don’t say, “Happy Memorial Day.” It’s “Happy Veterans Day.” Memorial Day is, “Hey, I’m thinking of you on Memorial Day.”

And I learned this lesson when I was standing up—my first chairman of my board, a wonderful man, I’d worked for him for about two years. And then after two years of working with him he suddenly said, “You know, I served in the Air Force.” I had no idea. I should have asked him. I should have been aware, but I wasn’t.

But the point is that there’s people around you who have served in the military, especially Vietnam-era veterans, who didn’t have a good reception when they came home and now is the time to give them a good reception when they came home and make sure that they’re taken care of too.

Allen: Jim Lorraine, I so appreciate your time today and encourage all of our listeners to check out America’s Warrior Partnership and the work you-all are doing.

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The post The Fight to Prevent Veteran Suicide appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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