Jackson Clarion-Ledger

OPINION: Cindy Hyde-Smith supports Warrior Call. Mississippians should follow suit.

By Frank Larkin, Special to the Clarion Ledger

The numbers surrounding military- and veteran-related suicides are troublesome no matter whether in Mississippi, across the South or the U.S.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that across the country 6,261 veterans took their own lives in 2019 — the most recent data available. The rate of suicide among veterans is almost double the rest of the U.S. 

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I and others who work to reverse this tragic trend, believe that the numbers, as tragic as they are, do not capture the whole picture, especially those veterans who might have succumbed to opioid or other types of addictions. As I have argued nationally, undiagnosed brain injuries are an area that the VA and others in this arena must do more to address. 

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is a consistent advocate for helping our nation's veterans.

As such, action is needed across the board, particularly at the deck plate, grassroots level. 

A key part of this is reducing isolation, a major corollary with suicide, particularly since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020. Up to two-thirds of veterans who take their own lives have had no contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Moreover, research notes that loneliness ranked higher than post-traumatic stress disorder, disability or psychiatric problems in contributing significantly to the risk of developing suicidal thinking.

This is why leaders are embracing the “Warrior Call” initiative — in which people are encouraged to connect with a veteran or service member — to create greater connectivity through simple yet meaningful action.

At the forefront of progress is Sen. Hyde-Smith, who supported a charge in Congress to establish the Sunday after Veterans Day as National Warrior Call Day. The initiative will be reinvigorated this year, helping establish the day in official capacity. 

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The campaign’s motto calls on Americans, but especially those who have worn or are wearing the uniform, to make a call, take a call and be honest. Pick up the phone or schedule a face-to-face and ask how a service member or veteran is doing. And, if needed, point this individual to resources. It may not be an easy conversation, but it could save a life.

The idea is born out of years of touring military bases and speaking to those in service, who repeatedly tell us that conversation and a sense of togetherness is what keeps them connected and focused on a hopeful future. Warrior calls empower families and communities to make connections — before their family member or friend is in crisis.

Beyond Congress, the effort was just endorsed by seven living Veterans Affairs Secretaries, as well as a cohort of conservative organizations. A broad swath of veteran groups will soon voice their support too. 

The past few years have been uniquely challenging for Mississippi veterans and those across the country. Invisible wounds linked to an underlying and undiagnosed traumatic brain injury can mirror many mental-health conditions. At the same time, vets can be burdened with moral injury from their experiences. 

All remedies have their place and deserve attention, but reducing suicides means helping right now by addressing root causes through initiatives like Warrior Call and getting those serving or who have served connected and steering them to services — and to hope. Thanks to Sen. Hyde-Smith for her leadership. Now is time for all Americans to follow suit. 

Frank Larkin is COO of the Troops First Foundation and chair of the Warrior Call initiative.