We must protect those who protected U.S.

By Sen. Michael Bennet

Grand Junction veteran Wayne Telford spent a good part of the Vietnam War on the Mekong River, a “brown-water navyman,” as he calls it, facing some challenging insurgents in Vietnam and Cambodia.

He never thought one of the most formidable foes he would face would be largely invisible — depression and suicide.

Telford’s daughter, Brooke Leigh Caffrey, followed his lead and went into military service. She was a 17-year member of the Air Force, a mother, and a wife. But last January, two weeks into a 30-day leave she had earned as a reward for exceptional service, the 1994 Fruita High graduate got in her car in her garage,  and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

With hindsight, Telford says he can see some of the warning signs, including a difficult deployment and an increasing sense of isolation.

Telford now has a new mission: He’s sharing his heartbreaking experience and newfound knowledge in detecting warning signs to make sure that other parents and loved ones don’t have to go through the loss that he’s endured.

Telford served on a panel we commissioned earlier this year to take a comprehensive look at mental health issues affecting veterans, with the goal of addressing the high rate of suicide.

A Department of Veterans Affairs report issued in February found that 22 veterans commit suicide each day — a staggering figure that equates to nearly one every 60 minutes and more than 8,000 veteran suicides every year. Over the last five years, there were nearly 1,000 veteran suicides in Colorado alone.

That is far too many, which is why our Veterans Working Group, which was convened in 2011 to make Colorado the best place to live and work for veterans and their families, asked our office to look into this issue further. Together, we organized a panel of mental health experts, veterans service providers, members of the military and veterans to further investigate how the issue was affecting Colorado veterans and their families.

Meeting frequently over the course of the spring and summer, our Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Panel identified 11 concrete recommendations to help prevent veteran suicide. They include better connecting the institutions and organizations that serve veterans in a community, better linking veterans to other veterans, providing more support and information to military families and enhancing coordination between the Veterans Administration and local communities. For the full report, visit http://www.bennet.senate.gov/senator-bennet-veteran-suicide-panel-recommendations.

These recommendations come from Coloradans on the panel who have seen similar efforts work in practice: like Telford, who once talked a fellow Vietnam vet friend down from suicide; or Welcome Home Montrose, which has brought the community together in a unified force for veterans, service members and their families; or the many others on our panel who contributed practical ideas that have worked in their communities around the state, from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

These recommendations serve as a strong foundation from which we can build a national policy aimed at preventing veteran suicide and improving veteran access to mental health care.

In the next five years, we expect roughly one million more men and women in uniform to return to civilian life. We have a responsibility to make sure they have the tools they need to heal when they return home.

It’s a challenging task, but the men and women who have fought so bravely to defend our country deserve nothing less. No parent or loved one should have to endure the pain and loss that Wayne Telford has experienced.

So, as we spend Monday honoring those who have sacrificed so much for our country, we must also work to address the invisible wounds they suffered as a result of their sacrifice.

If you know a veteran who needs help, please have him or her visit the Veterans Crisis Line at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net. Veterans and their loved ones can also call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with qualified, caring VA responders, or they can send a text message to 838255. This support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Sen. Michael Bennet represents Colorado in the U.S. Senate.

Grand Junction veteran Wayne Telford spent a good part of the Vietnam War on the Mekong River, a “brown-water navyman,” as he calls it, facing some challenging insurgents in Vietnam and Cambodia.

He never thought one of the most formidable foes he would face would be largely invisible in nature — depression and suicide.

Telford’s daughter, Brooke Leigh Caffrey, followed his lead and went into military service. She was a 17-year member of the Air Force, a mother, and a wife. But last January, two weeks into a 30-day leave she had earned as a reward for exceptional service, the 1994 Fruita High graduate went to her garage, got in her car, and committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

With the benefit of hindsight, Telford says he can see some of the warning signs, including a difficult deployment and an increasing sense of isolation.

Telford now has a new mission: He’s sharing his heartbreaking experience and newfound knowledge in detecting warning signs to make sure that other parents and loved ones don’t have to go through the loss that he’s endured.

Telford served on a panel we commissioned earlier this year to take a comprehensive look at mental health issues affecting veterans, with the goal of addressing the high rate of suicide.

A Department of Veterans Affairs report issued in February found that 22 veterans commit suicide each day — a staggering figure that equates to nearly one every 60 minutes, and more than 8,000 veteran suicides every year. Over the last five years, there were nearly 1,000 veteran suicides in Colorado alone.

That is far too many, which is why our Veterans Working Group, convened in 2011 to make Colorado the best place to live and work for veterans and their families, asked our office to look into this issue further. Together, we organized a panel of mental health experts, veterans service providers, members of the military, and veterans to further investigate how the issue was affecting Colorado veterans and their families.

Meeting frequently over the course of the spring and summer, our Veterans Mental Health and Suicide Panel identified 11 concrete recommendations to help prevent veteran suicide. They include better connecting the institutions and organizations that serve veterans in a community, better linking veterans to other veterans, providing more support and information to military families and enhancing coordination between the Veterans Administration and local communities (for the full report, visit //).

These recommendations come from Coloradans on the panel who have seen similar efforts work in practice: like Telford, who once talked a fellow Vietnam vet friend down from suicide; or Welcome Home Montrose, which has brought the community together in a unified force for veterans, service members, and their families; or the many others on our panel who contributed practical ideas that have worked in their communities around the state, from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

These recommendations serve as a strong foundation from which we can build a national policy aimed at preventing veteran suicide and improving veteran access to mental health care.

In the next five years, we expect roughly one million more men and women in uniform to return to civilian life. We have a responsibility to make sure they have the tools they need to heal when they return home.

It’s a challenging task, but the men and women who have fought so bravely to defend our country deserve nothing less. No parent or loved one should have to endure the pain and loss that Wayne Telford has experienced.

So as we spend Monday honoring those who have sacrificed so much for our country, we must also work to address the invisible wounds they suffered as a result of their sacrifice.

If you or someone you know is a veteran who needs help, please have them visit the Veterans Crisis Line at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net. Veterans and their loved ones can also call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with qualified, caring VA responders, or they can send a text message to 838255. This support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

 

Sen. Michael Bennet was elected to the U.S. Senate from Colorado in 2010.


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