Area Groups Aid Veterans Returning Home
By: Hilary Powell
September 25, 2014 — Retired army veteran Danna Carter is celebrating a milestone with his two sons Danna and Dajon this week: Breaking ground on a future home.
“We’re living in Portage, Ind. right now and we’re moving here to Merrillville,Ind. because Habitat for Humanity blessed us with a home,” he says. “God blessed us and they followed through.”
He’s the recipient of the first veterans build by Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana and the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council. Stakes line the ground where the no-interest mortgage house will be erected by 2015.
Though he’s smiling today, the Desert Storm veteran says he faced darker emotions in his past with post traumatic stress disorder.
“It was like I was having bad dreams,” he says. “Things would just click in my head and my attitude would be as I’m still in war. You know, it is hell.”
The mental health of all veterans is the subject of a September report from the Department of Defense. It states 120 service members committed suicide in the first three months of the year.
Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) calls the report “concerning.”
“They’re on the same pace as last year, which just further reinforces the need,” Donnelly says. “They would be able to have someone to talk to, some to seek counsel from.”
He says legislation he authored this year, the Jacob sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, would provide a pilot program of annual mental health assessments for military members. He says routine check-ups would lessen the stigma for those needing help.
“What we’re trying to make sure of is that it doesn’t play any role in making determinations about a service member’s career,” he says.
Carter says he went to a local clinic for counseling.
Zach McIlwain, a fellow with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says any new legislation should make sure veterans can access help in their communities.
“We need to comprehensive bill down to the local communities,” McIlwain says. “It’s not just the federal government. It’s not just the state, but it’s everybody involved to try to reverse the trend of veteran suicide.”
“Our purpose is to just give someone a chance to talk about what’s going on and get assistance, whether it’s just information,” says Sean McDaniel of Crisis Center Incorporated in Gary, Ind. He says the National Suicide Prevention Hotline collaborates with the veterans crisis line to connect veterans to the nearest center when they dial-in.
“Those individuals have, have sort of said, I’m willing to sacrifice my life to serve my country, so I think it’s important for us to say well okay we appreciate that. Here’s how we will support you when you get home.”
A congressional report states more members of the military committed suicide in 2012 than the total number who died in combat operations.
Mcdaniel says the hotline is a lifeline where veterans and civilians can seek 24-hour, anonymous help.
“You don’t see that person face to face. You most likely wouldn’t know that person so there’s that chance to be anonymous as well as be a bit freer in what you say,” he says.
He says friends and family can also be aware of warning signs, like depression, fits of crying or anger, and talking in finite ways.
Carter says seeking help is a sign of strength.
“We were taught to keep fighting, keep going,” he says. “As far as support is, you need it; you’re not going to make it without it. Just say look, I did what I was supposed to do. Now do what you’re supposed to do for me. Please.”