Combat vet reunions designed to combat veteran suicide

Phil Briggs
January 02, 2019 - 2:44 pm

Sergiy Bykhunenko | Dreamstime.com

To prevent veteran suicides in 2019, The Independence Fund and the VA are looking to reunite combat veterans, in hopes that the friendship they forged in battle can now save their lives at home.

Operation Resiliency will be a series of veteran retreats starting in April, where warfighters can reunite and help each other heal.

The Independence Fund

Above: The Independence Fund Mobility Program helps veterans get all-terrain wheelchairs and then get together and compete in events like the Spartan Race. 

Independence Fund, CEO Sarah Verardo, knows first-hand how important these reunions can be for the combat vet, “My husband served with the best of the best and he was severely wounded back in 2010.  He’s currently recovering from his 119th post-Afghanistan surgery right now.  What I’ve come to realize is that the only time he’s able to get together with his buddies is at funerals. It really weighed on my heart that when I would mention someone he served with, he wouldn’t ask if they had a baby, or if they get promoted … he would ask, ‘Did they kill themselves?’”

Bobbi Hauptmann

Above: The Independence Fund CEO, Sarah Verardo and VA's Dr. Keita Franklin talk about the upcoming veteran retreat in the Connecting Vets studio.

So with the help of the VA, Operation Resiliency looks to get ahead of veteran suicides, by organizing these customized reunions, “The uniqueness of this program is that we’re going to bring troops back together that served together and offer them time to reconnect,” explained Dr. Keita Franklin, Veterans Affairs, Executive Director Suicide Prevention.  “They’ll be able to talk peer to peer, vet to vet …  and find out what’s gone well since they’ve got out of the military, what’s not gone well, and how to help each other build those connections that will last well beyond the event that we hold.”  

While retreats can be a great way to spend a weekend, Verardo explained that these unit specific retreats will combine many things to help the vets attending, “It’s a combination of healing, fun and really getting to the nitty gritty, and that’s why we think the VA partnership is really important because they’re developing the curriculum and connecting these vets with VA services.  I mean sadly, many of the vets who end their life by suicide are not plugged with VA support, and so we want to introduce the veteran to the incredible programs available to them.”

The Independence Fund

Above: The Independence Fund's Mobility Program and Adaptive Sports Program help veterans get together and enjoy doing what warfighters love to do best.  

Perhaps one of the greatest parts of these reunion based retreats is how vets can reach vets in ways clinical settings can’t. “In more of a fun setting, they destigmatize or normalize what they may be going through … and realize they’re not alone,” explained Franklin.

Operation Resiliency will debut with men of Bravo Company 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in April of 2019.  

More information on the program will be available on the Independence Fund site. For more information on Independence Fund programs for mobility, adaptive sports, caregivers, and families click here.

Veterans who are experiencing distress may contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit BeThereForVeterans.com for support assistance.