“Nearly 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition,” the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated in 2014. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "20 veterans die by suicide each day.” And, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration comes the finding that “About 18.5% of service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.”

Approximately four years ago, on Feb. 12, 2015, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was signed into law. It was named in honor of a Marine veteran who died by suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. When Hunt left the Marines he struggled with depression, panic attacks and PTSD.

Clay Hunt focused on helping other veterans who also suffered from mental illnesses. Before his death, Hunt had been battling with the VA to upgrade his disability, he was faced with employment challenges, and his marriage had unraveled. The suicide prevention act was intended to expand suicide prevention programs at the VA. In 2015, alone over 80,000 referrals were made to VA crisis-line counselors. Sadly, more than 24,000 veterans have died by suicide since the passage of this act.

With each new day the need for mental first aid programs continue to increase. Our veterans need our assistance. We are fortunate to host the Mental Health First Aid for Veterans course at no cost on June 8 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at VFW Post 8955, 113 Beach St., in Westerly.  The training is limited to 25 seats. The course is specifically aimed at military members, veterans, and theh families and friends of military members or veterans. The program is made possible by South-County Bodies / Healthy Minds.

The instructors will be Lori Duffy and Matthew McCoy. Lori is a clinical social worker who has been working with children, families and adults for over 20 years. For 17 years she volunteered with the Washington County Coalition for Children. Matthew is a retired Navy surface warfare officer and Gulf War veteran. He is certified as a Mental Health First Aid for Adults Instructor supporting the South County-Healthy Bodies / Healthy Minds Program. McCoy stated that the overall goal of this training is to improve the public’s awareness of mental health illness and to reduce the stigma associated with it. The objective of the training is to provide the students with the information that they need to carry out mental health first aid.

The course will teach participants how to apply the ALGEE action plan: Assess for risk of suicide or harm. Listen non-judgmentally. Give reassurance and information. Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other support strategies. We each need to do our part to help our veterans in need. Since 2008 over 150,000 individuals have been trained in mental first aid. For additional information go to www.MentalHealthFirstAid.org/cs/veterans-military/

“Mental Health First Aid helps people know that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable and that it’s OK to seek help.”

To place your reservation contact Bill Siano, commander of VFW Post 8955, billsiano640@gmail.com, 401- 741-0873; or Donna Greene, South County Healthy Bodies / Healthy Minds, dgreene@southcountyhealth.org, 401-788-2371.

Project Outreach — this service is available to all veterans and their families who are in need of information regarding the numerous resources/agencies that are available to those who served. Our outreach officer is ready to meet with you the first Wednesday and third Monday of each month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Post Home. Appointments are not needed to meet with the service officer, Walter Kimball; 401-596-0470.

If you know of a comrade or family of comrade in distress please contact Comrade Dora Vasquez-Hellner, 401-212-6377 for assistance.

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