Sitting down with a friend or a peer over a meal or a cup of coffee may be that one simple act that helps prevent someone from attempting suicide.
Companionship was the one thing missing from John Morlock's life when he left the U.S. Army after more than a decade of service.
He tried to kill himself.
Years later, Morlock's Heroes Outreach Program tries to prevent veterans from feeling alone and reaching those low points in their lives.
It is among multiple programs intended to prevent veteran suicides.
Resources for veterans
The Missouri Department of Mental Health offers a number of resources for veterans.
Its Veterans Crisis Line — 1-800-273-8255, press 1 — is confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Debra Walker, DMH director of public and legislative affairs.
Or, begin a confidential chat at www.veterancrisisline.net. Veterans or service members in crisis, or people concerned about one are encouraged to call the number. It is staffed by qualified Veterans Affairs responders.
"Whatever's got you down — chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, anger or ever-disturbing memories of your tour of duty — a specially trained responder can provide support day or night," the website states.
In the unlikely event the participant is disconnected from the crisis chat, they are asked to click the chat again, call the 800 number or text 838255.
Jon Sabala, DMH veterans services director, points out that in addition to the Crisis Line, chat line and available text messaging, there is Access Crisis Intervention — connecting individuals with necessary behavioral health crisis services (to prevent unnecessary interventions at hospitals or detention facilities).
A DMH map shows separate numbers available for regions of the state.
Veterans or their families in Cole, Camden, Miller and Osage counties should call the Compass Health Crisis Line at 888-237-4567.
Those in Moniteau, Morgan and Boone counties should call the Burrell Central Missouri Crisis Line at 800-395-2132.
Those in Callaway County should call Arthur Center Crisis Line, 800-833-2064.
Assistance may include phone contact, referrals to resources in the community, next-day behavioral health appointments or mobile responses (with responders either going to the location of the crisis, or to another secure community location) according to the DMH website.
DMH also encourages family and friends of veterans to become familiar with the REACH (Reach, Engage, Attend, Connect and Help) coaching tool.
The tool encourages people who are hurting to:
- Reach out to a loved one or someone trustworthy.
Engage those they trust, and discuss life changes and risk factors that are contributing to their pain.
- Attend to their safety and surroundings. Contact someone who can stay with them if they are worried about themselves.
- Connect with family, friends or appropriate professionals. Contact a crisis line. Be as honest as possible.
- Help others understand how they can help them stay safe.
Sabala added a helpful way of preventing suicides is for people to participate in the Missouri Buddy Check 22 Day program.
The program asks that people check in on veterans on the 22nd day of each month.
"Having a support system and social connectedness promotes good mental health and reduces risk of suicide," the program download states. "A 'check-in' allows veterans to know they are cared for and that help is available during a mental health crisis or in times of need."
Jeffrey Hoelscher, a public affairs officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the VA has several ongoing suicide prevention efforts at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital:
- A suicide prevention team provides support and training for staff.
- It provides intensive follow-ups for veterans known or identified to be at high risk of suicide (in weekly appointments).
- It maintains weekly contact with high-risk veterans through the REACH program.
- It offers outreach programs to see veterans (who cannot easily travel) in their homes.
- Behavioral health providers are integrated into each of the hospital's community-based outpatient clinics (like the one in Jefferson City).
- Behavioral health providers are embedded in primary care clinics within the hospital.
- The hospital uses VA- specific videoconferencing to offer behavioral health care remotely. The hospital has completed an average of 980 video appointments monthly since June.
Heroes Outreach Program
Unfortunately, Morlock said, many veterans wish to remain alone. They avoid contact with people who don't share their life experiences.
Shortly after retiring from the Army and taking a great job in Idaho, Morlock's wife left him.
Despondent, he tried to overdose on prescription pills. That didn't work. Later, he shot himself in the head. He died, but doctors were able to revive him three times.
Now, he understands that after he left the service, the camaraderie and the shared experiences he had were missing from his life. And, if he'd had someone to speak with, whom he didn't have to explain things to, he would have been much more comfortable.
In 2016, after learning 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves each day (the number has since risen to 25), Morlock set out to make a change.
He started the Heroes Outreach Program in Mid-Missouri, which essentially gives veterans the chance once a week to sit down with other veterans in their communities and have a cup of coffee or enjoy a meal.
Morlock reaches out to veterans to say, "I understand."
"I looked at my situation and what it was that brought me to that point," he said. "I wondered what could have existed that might have kept me from getting there."
It all came down to being alone, he said.
"There was nobody there for me to talk to," Morlock said. "In the military, we didn't know anything about (post traumatic stress disorder).
"I was just left out there to flounder — and I did. So, I wanted to create something that would help my fellow soldiers and veterans to not reach that point."
The Heroes Outreach Program offers evening gatherings and weekly morning coffee talks. Some involve guest speakers, but many don't, allowing veterans to share their stories. Contact information is available on the program website.
In Jefferson City, the talks are at 9 a.m. at the Disabled American Veterans, 5054 Monticello Road.
Veterans also meet 9 a.m. Mondays at the Gathering Place, 318 S. Oak St., California.
Meetings are at 6 p.m. Mondays at Pioneer Cafe, 801 W. Newton St., Versailles; 6 p.m. Wednesdays at Golden Corral, 3734 Osage Beach Parkway, Osage Beach; and 6 p.m. Thursdays at Silver Dollar Restaurant, 20 Acorn Drive, Eldon.
Springfield also has morning and evening meetings.