VINTON, Virginia. – Local young veterans help raise awareness of veteran suicide by holding monthly meetings just to check in with their comrades.
A simple dinner at Macado’s can save lives. Every month on the 22nd, local veterans gather at Macado’s to not only enjoy the discounted meals, but also to express any thoughts that might weigh them down.
It’s called the “Buddy Check” and it’s an idea that started in Radford a few years ago to help prevent veteran suicide.
But Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Co. president Mark Shelton, who served in the military for three years, wants to expand the movement to other places.
“It’s always very difficult to find their group, to find their clique,” he said.
Shelton said the veterans just needed a safe space to remember the good times and reflect on the hard times as well.
The meetings take place on the 22nd due to a study carried out in 2013 by the Department of Veterans Affairs which declares 22 veterans committed suicide per day in the United States in 2010.
But a 2021 report linked to Project Costs of War estimates more than 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans of post-9/11 wars have died by suicide.
Shelton remembers losing a friend who served with him in Afghanistan when he was just 25 years old.
“It’s heartbreaking because he was one of the guys who kind of held the group together,” he said. “It’s really sad. I will never be able to see him again. I will never be able to have a cigar with him again.
Daniel McCulloch is an Army veteran who has said meetings can change the lives of veterans who may be on the fence.
“As veterans, we have a different sense of humor and a different way of thinking than our civilian counterparts,” he said. “So it’s like we’re able to talk about things that you can’t with other people. “
McCulloch is working with Shelton on a new nonprofit called Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Co. It aims to address the stigma of mental health among veterans.
“Maybe they feel like they don’t have a voice,” McCulloch said. “So it’s being that representation for them to help them.”
With each contact check, a guest will highlight a local resource for veterans who may wish to seek help.
The Sunday Buddy Check rally will last from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Macado’s in Vinton.
Shelton encourages veterans to take advantage of local resources like the Roanoke Veterinary Center talk to staff one-on-one.
If you are looking for immediate help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
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