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Randy McDonald carries reminders of mental health awareness and the 22 daily veterans in America who die from suicide. Jill Schramm / MDN

Statistics indicate that 22 veterans a day in America commit suicide. A new organization being formed in Minot aims to solve the problem of suicide among veterans in North Dakota.

Suicide is a personal matter for Randy McDonald and Christine Morse, who are among the organizers of a statewide Together with Veterans branch. Both work in a military unit in which a member recently committed suicide.

“There has always been a stigma attached to mental health research”, McDonald said. Speaking of suicide, the disease becomes less stigmatized and veterans are realizing that their reactions to the trauma they have experienced are normal, he said.

It is also important to have an organization that deals specifically with veterans.

“One of the things we know for a fact is whether you’re on active duty or a veteran, it will be a lot easier for them to talk to someone who knows what they’ve been through,” said Morse. “For some reason in the military we have this idea that we are strong enough to handle anything – nothing is going to break us – when in reality we are just people who have the same fears and struggles. The military doesn’t make us better. And so we want to make sure that we reach out to this community and that they have this safe place where they feel they can come and talk to someone.

Together With Veterans (TWV) is a community-based suicide prevention program for rural veterans. A national organization, TWV is funded by the Veterans Administration’s Office of Rural Health, according to its website. McDonald’s said the organization has around 30 branches in the United States.

TWV describes itself as a veteran-focused, community-centered organization that works with community partners to implement evidence-based strategies to reduce suicide.

TWV’s strategies include supporting suicide prevention training, improving primary care and suicide prevention in behavioral health, promoting connectivity and help seeking, improving communication between service programs for veterans and promoting the safety of deadly means. TWV also supports the dissemination of best practices in public health suicide prevention in rural communities, in accordance with the objectives of the National Strategy for the Prevention of Suicide in Veterans.

McDonald said the local organization will determine where to direct its efforts with input from its volunteers. Already with a core group of eight to nine people representing veterans and mental health organizations, local TWV organizers are looking for counselors, social workers, people who work with veterans and have access to resources. , as well as veterans themselves and others with ideas for the group that would like to get involved. McDonald said it’s not just people with mental health training that are needed, but also those interested in organizing and delivering events or willing to articulate the message.

“You don’t have to be a counselor to talk about suicide” he said. “I am open to anyone who really wants to help. I really want people to feel comfortable discussing suicide prevention and how to make it normal for people who are taught from generation to generation that this is something you don’t talk about.

Because the veterans community is large and diverse, there is a need for diversity within TWV’s steering committee and volunteer base, McDonald said. Older and younger Veterans are needed, as well as volunteers interested in reaching out to veterans’ spouses and dependents.

The current efforts of the organizers are focused on building a team and creating the association. To get involved, visit Together With Veterans Minot on Facebook for upcoming meetings or email [email protected] Organizers also plan to have representatives at the Veterans Stand Down on October 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Minot Armed Forces Reserve Center.

McDonald has said it can be difficult in the military to seek mental health counseling due to fears it could harm his career.

“This state of mind is reflected in the civilian world”, he said. Veterans are often reluctant to ask for help and may need time to build trust with someone so they can share what they are going through, he said.

Part of TWV’s goal is to participate in veterans events that create a sense of community, building the confidence to be able to speak out about suicide, he said.

“I hope that through this process we can create a safety net for people who might feel isolated”, he said.

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