Watch Stander program trains community members to learn warning signs of veterans in crisis and how to take action.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Each year more than 6,000 U.S. Veterans take their own lives, including more than 500 here in Florida. Veterans are dying by suicide at a rate nearly 1.5 times higher that of their civilian counterparts. This tragedy covers all age groups and demographics. It is time to take a new approach toward ending it.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is calling on individual states to accept the challenge of decreasing suicide rates among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families by implementing community-led prevention programs – and Florida has accepted this challenge. The “Florida Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families” will deliver on this promise – to end veteran suicide by preventing veteran suicide. This effort is being led by the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) and implemented by The Fire Watch, a Jacksonville-based non-profit founded on the core belief that if we can help veterans find the community resources they need before considering hurting themselves, then we can reduce, or even potentially end, veteran suicide in our communities.
The Fire Watch’s cornerstone prevention initiative is called the Watch Stander Program, an early intervention, life-saving network of community members trained to identify risk factors of veterans in crisis and direct those veterans to the resources they need. Effective today, the program is made available to all Floridians. It is free, on-line and available to everyone by clicking here. At the same time, The Fire Watch maintains non-identifiable, county-specific data on veteran suicides from 2010 through 2019 for the entire State of Florida. This data is also now available to the Florida community on The Fire Watch website at Firewatch Data. Visitors can view the veteran suicide count, the veteran suicide rate, and the number of veterans within any Florida county. Results can be sorted by age, gender, and ethnicity.
When used together, the Veteran Suicide Data and the Watch Stander program allow The Fire Watch – and the community – to identify hot spots throughout our state and focus on building a strong community support network in those areas.
“Think about our program like CPR,” says Fire Watch Executive Director Nick Howland. “When CPR training was launched in the 1970s, deaths by heart attack started to decline. Neighbors, colleagues, friends and co-workers all learned the warning signs leading to heart distress and knew to get help quickly. The Watch Stander program is designed to achieve the same result. By having thousands of Floridians aware of the risk factors of veterans in crisis and knowledgeable about how they can help, we will be well on our way to ending the tragedy of veteran suicide here in Florida.”
“We are excited to partner with The Fire Watch to end veteran suicide,” said retired Marine Corps Major General James S. “Hammer” Hartsell, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “The Watch Stander program teaches us to identify veterans in crisis and to call 911 or the Veteran Crisis Line in an emergency. This is crucial to saving lives. But, we also want to help veterans before they descend into crisis. That is why, after the initial training video, Watch Standers are asked to spend a few minutes glancing over some key resources that are available to help veterans. One of those resources is the Florida Veterans Support Line at 855-MyFLVet. Any veteran in Florida – at any time – can call 855-MyFLVet or call 2-1-1 and on those lines a Veteran can talk to experienced attendants – generally veterans themselves – who are standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to connect veterans to the resources they need. Together, we will end veteran suicide.”
FDVA is a 1,500-member constitutionally chartered State Veterans’ Affairs department with a $160 million annual budget responsible for serving the nation’s third largest veteran population.
The Fire Watch is Florida’s fight to end veteran suicide. You can learn more about us by visiting: Who We Are and What We Do or texting VETS to 72797.