All seven living former Veterans Affairs Secretaries are joining with a coalition of advocacy groups to call for all Americans to participate in National Warrior Call Day this November in an effort to help prevent veteran suicides.
The event — set for Nov. 12, the day after national Veterans Day ceremonies — is designed to highlight the estimated 17 veterans a day lost to suicide and prompt members of the public to take a role in reaching out to veterans.
“While we believe consistent engagement is essential, a day of action, on the heels of Veterans Day, can have an impact,” the secretaries and participating groups wrote in an open letter released Tuesday. “We understand that one call can truly save a life.”
The former secretaries are Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James Peake, Eric Shinseki, Bob McDonald, David Shulkin and Robert Wilkie. They served under three different presidents and represent bipartisan support for the outreach efforts. Other signers of the letter include AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project and America’s Warrior Partnership.
The letter was organized by Troops First Foundation as a simple but important way to include all Americans in the effort to prevent veteran suicide. Veterans Affairs leaders believe involving the general public is key to further reducing the number of veterans who die by suicide.
“A lot of the public does not really understand the issues veterans are dealing with,” said TFF Chief Operating Officer Frank Larkin, a former Navy SEAL and father of a SEAL who died by suicide. “This is a way to invite them in, and give veterans a way to get connected again.”
Organizers say participation in the effort is as simple as reaching out to veterans living in volunteers’ families or neighborhood, to talk about challenges in their lives or simply invite them to get more involved in their communities.
National Warrior Call Day is not an official public holiday, but several lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation in recent years to formalize the event. September is recognized as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month by a host of advocacy groups and government offices.
More information on National Warrior Call Day is available online.
Veterans in need of emergency counseling can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and selecting option 1 after connecting to reach a VA staffer. In addition, veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 for help, or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.