Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veteran-led Peer Support Combats Suicide

/PRNewswire/ -- Last month in Washington, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki made a staggering announcement: more veterans have committed suicide since 2001 than have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coming within weeks of the release of the US Army's suicide prevention guidebook, the VA Secretary's statement underscores the commitment to teaching service members and veterans the methods for overcoming combat stress.

While for many the manual will be an important tool, veteran-to-veteran peer support is often the best way to stay mentally healthy during and after wartime service.

For more than a decade, Survivor Corps has helped thousands of military and civilian survivors of war to recover and move beyond their combat trauma. Now, thanks to a committed group of American veterans, the organization is implementing their international expertise here at home.

In 2006, US Army Captain (Ret.) Scott Quilty lost his right arm and right leg to an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Iraq. Today, he is the US Program Manager for Survivor Corps.

"I quickly learned at Walter Reed that isolation will kill me," says Quilty. "After months of rehabilitation I started to sleep more and interact less. The only thing that motivated me to get out of bed for the first time in days was the news that my friend just arrived and lost both his feet."

Survivor Corps partners with the Massachusetts Statewide Advocacy for Veterans Empowerment (SAVE) to implement a pioneering veteran peer support program.

Earlier this year, outreach workers from SAVE attended Survivor Corps' peer support training program, where they learned advanced techniques to identify mental health issues and reduce rates of suicide. Since the training, SAVE has reached over 7,000 veterans and service members.

Cameron Macauley, Survivor Corps' Health Education Specialist, conducted the peer support training in Massachusetts. "From our experience in post conflict countries around the world, it is clear that peer support is key to combating the social isolation felt by survivors. When we adapted our program to help veterans here in the United States we provided special training to our outreach workers in order to properly recognize the signs most commonly associated with suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI)."

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