A new weekly podcast from Military Times examines the alarming rate of military and veterans suicide, offering new insights based on research and effective clinical and peer support practices in suicide prevention. Hosted by Duane France, a retired Army combat veteran, author and mental health counselor, and Shauna Springer, a psychologist, author and nationally recognized expert on initiatives to benefit the military community, the podcast aims to move beyond awareness to identify actionable strategies that can impact the rising suicide rate among service members, veterans, and their families.
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Duane France: 00:00 Welcome to the seeking the Military Suicide Solution Podcast brought to you by the Military Times. I’m Duane France
Shauna Springer: 00:06 And I’m Doc Shauna Springer
Duane France: 00:08 And we’d like to thank you for taking the time to join us to talk about an extremely important topic, suicide in the military affiliated population.
Duane France: 00:22 So this is the introductory episode of the show and we wanted to take a few minutes to tell you a bit about us, what brought us here and why this show at this point in time. To start off with, I’ll tell you a little bit about me. My name is Duane France. I said I’m a retired Army Noncommissioned Officer, combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and a clinical mental health counselor practicing in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to my clinical work, I also write and speak about mental health and wellness on my blog and podcast, Head Space and Timing. In over 150 episodes of that show, the topic of suicide came up often. It started to come up so often that we decided to create this show to talk about that subject specifically. I’m joined by my cohost, Doc Springer. Shauna.
Shauna Springer: 01:06 Yes, thanks Duane. So I’m a licensed psychologist who’s known as Doc Springer for my role as a trusted advisor in the military and veteran community. And in addition to spending years innovating in the area of suicide prevention, I have expertise in a number of topics that have not been well explored as yet. For example, moral injury, firearm safety conversations, and bridging the trust gap between veterans and civilian treatment providers. I’ve never served in the military, wouldn’t want to represent that I did, but I had a pretty unconventional upbringing. That I’ll talk about a little bit later in this episode that has helped veterans really feel like home to me and has really helped me feel comfortable working with those who have served in the military. I work has been featured on NPR, NBC, CBS radio, Military Times, and Marine Corps Times and I’m delighted to do this podcast series with Duane France, who I first met through the Head Space and Timing podcast. He does excellent interviews and I just thought what a thoughtful interview that was. And then when he asked me to cohost this with him, it just all kind of came together from there.
Duane France: 02:15 No, I really appreciate that. I think it was as I was thinking about the concept of this show, really wanting to bring someone on to to really, you know, parse some things out with and bounce some things off of. I really appreciated your willingness to come on and have the conversation.
Shauna Springer: 02:36 Yeah. You know, one of the things I really wanted to do in this episode is to give space for us to talk about how we came to this work. It’s really important to me as we go through this process to interview guests that don’t see this as just a job that really see this as a mission or a calling or something that is at least sacred work to them for some reason or another. And often there’s a story behind what drives people to do this work in the first place. So I wanted to ask you, doing what brought you to this work? What’s your story?
Duane France: 03:17 Everybody loves an origin story, right? Surprisingly, a pretty common question is, you know, how does a…I was not a mental health professional when I was in the army. I was actually in logistics. I made a choice 25 years ago now to to take the first thing smoking out of St Louis to be able to get out of my dad’s basement and happened to be that particular MOS. And then opportunities over those 22 years I spent in the Army, I decided to do more crazy stuff like jumping out of airplanes and, you know, going to weird and exotic places like Turkey and Norway rather than changing my job. But I wasn’t a mental health professional specifically. I wasn’t a licensed clinician when I was in the army. When I do often say that it is somewhat similar to a Platoon Sergeant, a First Sergeant of, you know, “Hey Joe, what’s going on?” And, and you know, “what’s going on in your head?”
Duane France: 04:05 I always thought that I was going to be a high school teacher. Like you know, one of those English teachers or maybe a history teacher who, you know, the students could derail by asking war stories and not get any homework. And I had a Vietnam Vet teacher that we knew that if we got him talking about Vietnam, we could get out of homework. And, you know, I always saw myself doing something like that. And then some of the things in, I’ve talked about it, we will talk about it in future episodes as my father was a Vietnam vet as well as three of his brothers. And I saw the impact of combat on my family. My parents were divorced. And so, you know, I grew up not having, you know, parents in the same household when my dad, my father was in our life, but I saw the impact of what combat did to him and his three brothers.
Duane France: 04:59 And, and, and really growing up in that time of the 80s, the mid eighties when the wall first came up. And, and so I sort of always had this idea of, I knew what the impact would have on on combat veterans. And then 2006 was actually when I first deployed to Iraq is when I first started getting the idea that these veterans are actually going to need the same support that my father and his brothers didn’t get. Right? That I could see this happening again., you know, going forward. And then through a series of serendipitous events it turned out that actually was part of a reintegration program that was being hosted by an Air Force veteran who she was a clinician at a local vet center. And and she said something to me that really kind of struck me. And she was giving her spiel, right?
Duane France: 05:55 You know, don’t punch the dog and don’t kick the neighbors and everything and she said, “Oh, by the way, if any of you are interested in mental health, consider a career in the clinical mental health field because there’s not enough combat veterans in that space.” And for me that was really sort of the spark that lit the lit the fuse that sort of got me to the point where I wanted to do clinical work and I love the clinical work that I do, but as I was doing the clinical work, I also recognized that, you know, she was right. Number one, there’s not enough of us, but there’s not enough connection between the clinical space and the people that are actually using or you know, as, as you had mentioned, the gap between the therapists and then the clients.
Duane France: 06:42 And so, that’s really where I started getting into the speaking more and talking more. And my first suicide intervention was with my Vietnam Veteran father. He passed away in 2017, natural causes, had really great times at the end of his life. But there was a period of time in the early 2000s, even before I became a clinical mental health counselor that he was in a really rough spot and I had to do a suicide intervention over the phone. I was in Germany and I had to ask him those questions and get him the help, you know. And so for me, suicide has always been that extreme end of unresolved underlying issues. And so that’s why the topic of suicide is important to me. While also really more importantly, for me, addressing what’s underneath that issue, not the problem itself.
Shauna Springer: 07:43 Right, right. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for, for sharing that. I, I’ve always known, you know, that the work is sacred to you. It’s just very clear. It really comes through. But you know, having both your military background and your father service and the lived experience of intervening with somebody you love it’s now just so clear to me, you know, why this has really come together to the place where it has and where some of your insights come from as well.
Duane France: 08:16 Yeah. I really appreciate that. Is definitely you know, the ball was sitting there and I decided to pick it up. So how about you? What got you into the work that you’re doing and why this topic specifically?
Shauna Springer: 08:33 Yeah, so I had actually a buddy over last night from early in my high school years, haven’t seen him in over two decades. And he happened to be in town, so I got to meet him and his wife and his kiddos. And we were thinking about our early years. And like many of my friends he made the point that even by Southern California standards, my upbringing was really unusual. And it kinda started with a Pat Conroy novel that my father read called The Great Santini. It was the story of Bull Meacham who was a Marine fighter pilot who raised his kids like a drill instructor. And I think in retrospect that my dad used Conroy’s novel as a parenting manual and he made no bones about talking about how much he, you know, thought that was a great book and a great philosophy for raising your kids.
Shauna Springer: 09:28 And so that’s how my childhood was. It was like an extended form of bootcamp really. Everything from, you know, getting up from a very early age at five in the morning and running miles around the local track in the dark to sending us alone from the age of 10 on on service missions to foreign countries. Like my first trip was I was 10 years old, didn’t know the family that I stayed with, got to know them of course. But it was to Mexico City where we ministered to people who were living in what was at that time, the second largest garbage dump in the world. So, you know, these kinds of experiences, there was a whole set of challenges that we were put through to kind of push us through our natural fears. I remember for example, when I was age six, he offered me $10 to jump off an Olympic sized diving platform.
Shauna Springer: 10:24 And it was a test of trust because I couldn’t swim. So jumping off, you know, I felt sure I would die, but I jumped anyway. And he scooped me out of the pool and, and gave me this $10 bill, which was like, felt like a hundred thousand dollars to me, honestly at the time, as a kid of six, you know, you know, you could buy so much with that. So experiences just in my household and growing up really shaped me in ways that have helped me feel at home with those who serve in the military. Even though I’ve never served, it was actually Vietnam Veterans that started calling me Doc Springer. And that term really has meaning for me. I don’t really, you know, Dr. Springer is kind of, yeah, it’s the default term that we use for people with advanced degrees who have been in school for a really long time.
Shauna Springer: 11:15 It doesn’t mean that you’ve built the trust or that you hold trust with the people that you’re serving. And so when I went into the VA, I served eight years to the day and that was not by accident. It was because eight years was essentially two standard enlistments. I decided I was going to go in with that mentality that this is my way to serve those who have served in our military. And so I knew that, you know, my personality wasn’t particularly suited at all to a more bureaucratic organization. But I went in there with that mentality that, no matter what, I was going to stay, you know, four years and then ended up staying eight years and honestly found a lot of really mission-driven providers that are really trustworthy and good docs as well. And came to realize that there’s basically two types of providers who work with veterans.
Shauna Springer: 12:11 There’s doctors and there’s Docs. And the doctor is the person with the higher degree and the expertise that’s recognized in the academic community. But that doesn’t necessarily make them a Doc. Being a Doc, which you know, can be a social worker, a psychologist, a licensed counselor of any kind, is somebody who has a special kind of trust. And really for me, the heart of the distinction is in the role that that provider assumes with his or her patients. So here’s where it kinda came from, for me. There was a special forces medic who first was on my case load first started calling me Doc and he said there are three sources of medical care in special forces. There’s licensed MDs who are referred to a “Sir,” medics who are unproven who are called “Medics”. And finally the ones that could treat and heal you. And you knew that they were going to give you help when you needed it.
Shauna Springer: 13:09 And these were the Docs. So that’s where I sort of first learned that concept and then I formed my approach to practice based on that understanding. That, you know, earning the trust and holding that trust was the most important thing for me to learn to do as a healer. And I wanted to shift the way that I approached the practice with veterans to work with them as someone with the same heart as the medics they came to trust in the military. So that’s why it’s such an honor when people in the military community call me Doc Springer. Dr Springer, you know, is a sort of formal designation. But like I said, it just, it doesn’t mean as much to me, now that I kind of understand that from my patients. So yeah, for 10 years I’ve been really working closely in the military and veteran community and I’m definitely aware that service members have made lots of sacrifices that I haven’t.
Shauna Springer: 14:11 Serving eight years in the VA, getting to serve in that way, by no means is the same as, you know, being far away from family, being deployed. Although deployment has peak life experiences as well. I don’t mean to paint it as, you know, a trauma necessarily because it isn’t for many people, but I do want to bring veterans all the way home into lives that are filled with purpose, where they’re deeply connected with the people that they love, that they would have died for. And so as I’ve walked this path with so many veterans, I’ve really learned a lot about love and trust. I have learned so much about what can drive even the strongest and the bravest of us to a place of despair. And I’ve also, I think most importantly, learned how we can come around the dark side of the moon into a path of purpose and healing. So I’m really excited to launch this podcast with you and bring on some really interesting people and leading thinkers so that we can kind of synergize across different areas of expertise and hopefully bring something of real value that will move us all forward in the area of suicide prevention.
Duane France: 15:21 Yeah, I absolutely agree. And I think back to our conversation that you had referred to on the Head Space and Timing podcast and and I think I’d made the parallel of this sort of semi-nomadic lifestyle that you grew up to that of my own kids, right? Who don’t know where they’re from and, and had this, you know, it’s sort of a military brat kind of existence where you’re ungrounded. But you’re also familiar with hardship, right? Because you know, you lived in the middle of a dump and you know, in Mexico and I lived in a middle of a dump in Iraq and a dump is a dump. Right? And maybe there’s some different aspects to it, but you know, so there is some shared hardship and then again, as you’d mentioned and definitely well-respected in the field. So I’m really happy to really to be starting this project with you.
Shauna Springer: 16:13 Yeah, it’s going to be great. I mean, and you first had the idea, you know, you came to me after doing the Head Space and Timing podcast for some time. Your background in logistics shows up really strong to me in terms of how you planned that one and you know, how you came to this process, but we had a vision and your vision to start with was to really get beyond just talking about statistics, to really move beyond, you know, this alarming awareness of a problem. We wanted to really bring forward conversations that would pair this awareness with meaningful action so that we could move us all forward. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, that background in terms of how you came to this idea of the Seeking the Military Suicide Solution Podcast?
Duane France: 17:03 Yeah. So again, one of the things that we’re really missing is taking what you and I know as clinical mental health professionals that works, that helps people, I really love that idea of getting people around the other side of the dark side of the moon. That we know what works, right? We’ve seen it work with veterans, we’ve seen, you know, people, their lives changed. And yet there’s still this large number of people that don’t have that. And so that was one thing was I always saw that this was this was something, that’s what the Head Space and Timing podcast was about, was to talk about mental health in general and get some of this information out to people that needed it. But really over the last 25 shows, because I went up to 150,
Duane France: 17:53 And so the Head Space and Timing podcast is on hiatus right now, but really over the last 20 to 25 shows that the Head Space and Timing podcast, I’d started getting more and more people who wanted to talk about, you know, suicide and suicide prevention. It became, it started to become a bigger and bigger issue. I started being involved in suicide prevention at my community level, at the state level here in Colorado, even at the national level. And so it was the conversation that was happening throughout 2019 and and I thought that well maybe this is time and through the Head Space and Timing podcast, how you and I met, how many of the guests who, who we’re bringing on this show had met where people want to talk about it. I can’t…I don’t like reading journal articles for fun, right?
Duane France: 18:46 But we know there’s things in there that work. And so for me, this was an idea of how do we get those people that are doing the things that work to talk about the things that work. And like you said, move beyond just the awareness piece. I can get kind of crusty. And I remember one time year and a half ago where I was a little frustrated because my local newspaper, you know, did this huge article about a veteran who was saluting flagpoles around our community for 22 minutes for 22 days. That that was the suicide awareness campaign. And like I love it that people are trying to, you know, the pushups and you know, and everything else. I really appreciate that. But once we become aware of something, well now we’re aware of it. Now we know it’s there. What’s the next step? And that’s what I think this, what I hope that this is going to do is give our listeners some actionable steps and really some frame around the conversation that we need to have around military suicide.
Shauna Springer: 19:52 Right? Because, you know, really all the awareness without the action actually promotes helplessness and hopelessness about the problem. You know, you had mentioned not wanting to read a whole bunch of journal articles all the time or most people don’t. And I think that’s right. And you know, you and I have both also written books. I know that, you know, you’re coming out with a book called Military in the Rear View Mirror. I wrote the forward for that in support of the insights that you share in that book. I also, on Veterans Day, published with my friend Jason Roncoroni, a 400 page book on military transition called Beyond the Military: a Leader’s Guide for Warrior Reintegration. And it’s a really different look at transition. It’s a handbook really that helps people look at the psychological, cultural, and relational aspects of military transition and really confronts the identity crisis that so many of our military service members and leaders confront when they come out of the military.
Shauna Springer: 21:00 So, you know, nobody writes books or does podcasts to make money. But they are a great way to scale insights. And so, you know, the next book that that I’m working on is going to be coming out in about six months. No, not six months to be out in like three months now in March or April. It’s called Warrior: How to Support Those Who Protect us. And that’s going to be, you know, 10 chapters on things that I wish I had known when I started working with this population, including a couple of chapters specifically on innovations around suicide prevention that really draw from an understanding of the military and veteran population. So this timing is, you know, perfect because I’ve really been steeped in that writing project and you know, thinking about these issues very intensely for some time now and looking forward to seeing, you know, what themes emerge on the podcast.
Duane France: 22:01 Yes. I agree. I really appreciate your expertise, bringing your clinical experience to the conversation. I think that this is really going to be a unique way to take what all of our colleagues are doing, but get it in the hands of people that, that really want to really want to stop this. So I really appreciate you joining me. And any last thoughts?
Shauna Springer: 22:28 Yeah, the other thing I wanted to say was how much I appreciate the partnership of the staff at Military Times. I’ve done a couple of pieces with them over the past year and just really felt well supported by them and proud to partner with them for this podcast that we’re doing.
Duane France: 22:48 Absolutely. Well thanks everybody for listening. I really appreciate you taking the time. I look forward to giving you a lot of great information. Shauna and I already have a number of guests. Really the first three months worth are going to be or have been identified already. The goal for this show was to be a contained show. It’s going to run throughout 2020. It’s gonna be 50 episodes plus this one. And, and really that’s going to be the limit of this. Really happy to be working with partners at Military Times to be able to distribute this to a wider audience and and really look forward to Seeking the Military Suicide Solution with you. You can find out more about the work that Shawna’s doing by checking out her latest book, Beyond the Military: a Leader’s Guide for Warrior Reintegration, and the work that I’m doing with my latest book, Military in the Rear View Mirror. Both are available on Amazon and we’ll have links to those in the show notes.
Shauna Springer: 23:46 Just a reminder that the guests and reflections on this show are for informational purposes only and should not be considered professional advice. While Duane and I are mental health professionals, we are not your mental health professionals. We always recommend that you discuss these things with a licensed clinician
Duane France: 24:02 And always remember, you can connect with the veteran crisis line by calling (800) 273-8255 and pressing one chat online with them at veterancrisisline.net or texting 838255. Thanks again for joining us to talk about Seeking the Military Suicide Solution and make sure to follow Military Times on social media to keep up with the latest shows. Join us next