TEMPLE, Texas — According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 17 veterans die by suicide every day in this country. This is 1.5 times the rate of non-veterans.
America's Warrior Partnership, a national non-profit organization, hopes that Texans can be the answer for those veterans lost to suicide or to a non-natural death in the last two years through a program called Operation Deep Dive.
OpDD takes place in 15 states, now including Texas, with the mission to examine how the deceased service member was engaged within the community. They'll do it through a series of interviews with loved ones, friends, family and co-workers.
"By family members, friends, co-workers coming forward and participating in these interviews, we are able to better stretch out the information we are gathering to better wherein the community could we have touched veterans prior to them being overwhelmingly distressed," said Cheree Tham, co-founder and Principal Investigator of Operation Deep Dive.
AWP has teamed up locally with Combined Arms in Houston and works with researchers at the University of Alabama with support from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.
John Boerstler, of Combines Arms, said their focus is to work together to better understand why suicides happen so they can try and prevent them in the future.
Tham said the data that is collected for OpDD is done through obtaining death records in each state, covering the years 2014-2019. All records collected are then compared and verified with the Department of Defense records, which confirms their service history.
The challenge in Texas, according to Tham, is that they are unable to access the death records that include the Social Security Numbers of those who have passed. Those numbers are a requirement by the DoD to verify service history.
Tham and Boerstler said they are calling on Texans to assist in the second component of the study, giving them an opportunity to have a larger voice. Texas can be that bridge needed to provide the qualitative data to understand how communities can support veterans prior to them reaching a crisis.
"The community element and where we can get ahead of the crisis as community citizens is important around this research," Tham said.
Anyone who wants to participate must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Must be 18 or older
- A relative, loved one, friend or co-worker to a deceased former service member who has died by suicide or from non-natural causes within the last 24 months
- Located within one of the participating states
- Participant and former service member must have lived in the same community (metropolitan statistical area) prior to the service member's death
Tham said if the community doesn't step forward, the study will be that much harder to continue.
"Then we don't know how we can get ahead of the crisis on a community level," she admitted. "And we will continue to be reliant only on the mental health community."
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