Learning how to S.A.V.E. a veteran’s life in less than 25 minutes

Jonathan Kaupanger
July 03, 2018 - 12:04 pm



Someone dies by suicide every 12 minutes in the United States.  Veterans only make up nine percent of our country’s population, yet account for 18 percent of suicidal deaths.  Attempts of suicide are lowest with older veterans, but they also make up the largest percent of deaths by suicide.

A complex problem, Veterans Affairs has released its strategy for preventing veteran suicide .  This is a 10 year plan and you can read it, including all 14 goals and 43 objectives, or you can spend less than 25 minutes and learn how to S.A.V.E. a life

“We’re trying to teach people about the signs and symptoms,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, Executive Director VHA Suicide Prevention.  “We’re trying to teach people about risk.  Anybody can do something, you don’t just have to be a mental health provider.”

S.A.V.E. stands for Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite and is the easiest way to remember how to help save a life.  This training was developed to help identify veterans at risk and what to do when you interact with them.  “A friend can do something,” said Dr. Franklin.  “A chaplain, a neighbor -anybody can instill hope in somebody who is struggling and you don’t know who is struggling all the time, so it’s critically important to have a positive interaction.”  And this is where S.A.V.E. comes in handy. 

  • S is for Signs.  Learning how to recognize signs that someone is in trouble is key. Thoughts, feelings and behavior all come into play here. 
  • A is for Ask.  Learn how to ask the most important question of all, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”  How you ask this is important. Asking this serious question in a natural way may take some practice, but it helps to reduce the stigma and makes the veteran feel more comfortable.
  • V is for Validate.  When you validate a person’s experiences, they feel understood and supportive.  By listening to the veterans and allowing them to talk, you can acknowledge that this is a serious issue without being judgmental.
  • E is for Encourage and Expedite.   Here you need to be very reassuring – not just that help is available, but that you’ll help them find help. 

Of course resources are very important, both for the person struggling and the person who wants to help. 

  • Suicide Prevention Coordinators.Each VAMC has specially trained Suicide Prevention coordinators onsite who can help get you to the appropriate counseling and services needed.
  • Vet Centers.  There are more than 300 community-based Vet Centers across the country.  A little known fact about these centers, while they do have access to your VA medical record, all records created at Vet Centers are kept private.  You can even ask questions through the Vet Center Facebook page too.
  • Make the Connection.  This VA website is for veterans, families and friends to explore at their own speed.  You can watch short videos from fellow veterans who have struggled with problems similar to you.
  • Veterans Crisis Line.  There’s a lot of good information and help on this website.  The “get help” tab has a resource locator that will put you in touch with the most appropriate organization.  VA has expanded the capability of the Veterans Crisis Line to include help through text or online chats.  To get help via text, just send your message to 838255.  You can start an online chat by going here.  And always, you can call 800.273.8255 and press 1 to speak with someone 24 hours a day.

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