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Vets group calls for ‘CAMO Alert’

May 30, 2018
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Veterans returning home from duty often navigate a minefield of obstacles when acclimating themselves back into the civilian world.

A lot of these men and women bring their battles home with them, coping with the post-traumatic stresses of active duty military.

The American Military Veterans Foundation is currently in the works on new technology for veterans at risk; the CAMO Alert.

National board member of AMMILVETS and Veteran Service Officer Keith Campbell is hoping this program will be a vital resource for veterans and help save lives.

"This system is to help community and law enfacement understand the severity of a missing veteran or first responder that may not be in their right thoughts," he said.

This alert would be similar to Amber and Silver Alerts - giving name, last known location and other details about the person sought.

These alerts would be used in serious situations, when red flags arise and, potentially, even a suicide note left.

Veteran suicide is an epidemic across the country, something the AMMILVETS takes very seriously.

Their initiative for Florida veterans is "to help our military veterans, active duty personnel and their families cope with PTSD and everyday stresses; and to educate communities about PTSD and suicides."

"People don't want to talk about suicide or PTSD," said Campbell, "We need to stop pushing mental health to the side."

According to a suicide data report conducted in 2012 by the Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Service Suicide Prevention Program, 22 veterans take their own life every day in America, as does one active duty solider.

This may just be scratching the surface though, as this 13-year study did not include the two states with the largest populations of veterans - California and Texas.

Florida is home to the country's third largest veteran population with over 1.5 million full time residents.

Of all the states polled, Florida held the highest veteran suicide deaths by state, at 26 percent.

"Veterans can feel they are a burden to their loved ones, they think 'My family will be better off without me,'" Campbell said.

What may be surprising to some, is that 65 percent of veteran suicides are white males over the age of 50, leading the AMMILVETS to believe that some recessed thoughts come back when veterans retire and maybe have more free time to think.

"We get lots of crisis calls, when these men and women have down time and idle minds, bad memories can creep back. For the younger generation, they come home and don't block it out. They're not getting the assistance they need and are turning to drugs or alcohol. Before, it was one tour and you're done; now, these men and women are returning over and over to war zones, they get used to the adrenaline rush and search for it. We've seen suicide by cop and even motorcycle; they look for that rush and it ends their life."

David Souders, president and founder of AMMILVETS as well as a former Marine and Air National Guardsman (active side), says the biggest challenges for veterans returning home is "the civilian community doesn't understand us, and we have a difficult time adapting back to an un-regimented lifestyle."

Souders, with 17 years of military experience, knows what it's like to return home from active duty and how tough it can be to reintegrated into everyday life.

His biggest concerns are for his brothers and sisters, especially those in Florida.

"The number of suicides among our veteran community is the driving force behind CAMO Alert; we're losing too many veterans. We can help protect veterans with mental health issues and physical disabilities with suicide prevention, along with keeping them out of the legal system," Souders added.

Getting this alert into action is a process though, one the AMMILVETS are tackling head-on.

Initially, state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was to draft the bill and present it for approval, but in recent times, her involvement with CAMO Alert has come to a stand-still, according to AMMILVETS.

"We're writing the bill ourselves, with help from a local attorney who is also a veteran, along with others," Campbell said.

The rest of the committee is comprised of Sauders, Joan Colosimo, a Blue Star Mother who is also on the board of directors at AMMILVETS, Megan Contreras, formerly of Wink News and Wendy Hayes-Boaz, nurse and Blue Star Mother.

Campbell said they want to keep the bill simple and to the point and hope to have it done by the end of June to present in July for submission. If approved, the bill would be voted on in next fall session.

Benacquisto could not be reached for comment.

So how does the program work?

AMMILVETS would like CAMO Alert teams established in Florida to assist with veterans that are missing or in distress.

CAMO Alert teams are formed and on call 24/7, 365 days a year, whenever a veteran is in need.

Local law enforcement can use CAMO Alert in quick fashion to alert communities.

The program would also post updates on the situation using county, city and state-wide communications to eliminate the limitations of law enforcement.

Expectations by AMMILVETS of the program include a veteran resource handbook by district to be updated annually, CAMO Alert teams to stand up, educate and bring awareness to Florida communities and PTSD and suicide prevention, State of Florida Officials to meet with established CAMO Alert teams at least once a year, CAMO Alert teams to meet quarterly with local officials and State of Florida officials working in conjuncture with CAMO Alert teams to establish Veteran Safe Zones.

"We want this to be a nation-wide thing," Campbell said. "Wisconsin already has a similar program in place and Texas will have one as well by the end of the year."

A vital resource for these men and women will be Veteran Safe Zones.

"Our AMMILVETS headquarters, along with other veteran centers, as well as churches and some fire stations are locations veterans can go to and feel safe, we're working with communities to get them up to speed," Campbell said.

These places must be drug, alcohol and weapon-free, have a friendly veteran environment and willing to offer crisis and stress management training from former veterans.

"We try to partner anyone feeling troubled with a peer mentor who shares similarities, usually someone from the same branch who may have fought in a similar climate who they can relate to," said Campbell.

"With PTSD, there is no script, you have to gain their trust," Campbell continued. "We have veteran organizations all over the state we can reach out to and ask 'Hey, do you have any Navy guys to peer mentor', or whichever branch, and get them set up with someone they can confide in."

Campbell tells of a female veteran who found success in the program's methods that potentially saved her life.

"We had a veteran who went missing three times in two weeks who was showing signs of wanting to end her life. We sent out a CAMO Alert on every social media platform we have and to other veteran groups. A veteran up in the Tampa area saw the alert, and found her in her vehicle in a Walgreens parking lot passed out and unresponsive in the back seat. They called police and EMS who brought her to the hospital, treated her, and released her. We were in contact with the law enforcement officer in Tampa who placed her in solace care for 5-6 days. Upon her release, she was brought down to Lee County and we provided her with the best care we could, including peer-to-peer mentoring and helping restore her military benefits. As of a couple of weeks ago, she's doing well and said CAMO Alert was the best thing that could've happened to her."

The AMMILVETS and their team are also working on different tiers of alert status, from low to severe and are reaching out to local law enforcement of how to break those levels down.

Any veterans looking for support can visit the AMMILVETS headquarters at 1490 NE Pine Island Road, suite 5D in Cape Coral, or call 239-257-3410.

 
 

 

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