Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reach out to Veterans - By Wasco County Deputy Lane Magill

This column was published shortly after Veterans Day in The Dalles Chronicle that was written by Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill on behalf of our nation's veterans. Mr. Magill is visiting Arlington in the near future and will take grave rubbings of 15 Heroes that will be framed and presented to their families. He is also helping to plan a hunting trip this fall for some of our combat veterans and is a true example of how emergency responders can reach across professional lines to help one of their own...

Wasco County, Oregon Chief Deputy Lane Magill

Reach out to Veterans
By Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill

As many of you may know or may not know, November is what we in the law enforcement business consider, "Veteran's Month." As I was reflecting about this subject I wanted to write an article giving you, the general public, an idea of what veterans have to go through, as well as providing information so you can assist a veteran in need. I would encourage all of you to read this article completely as I hope it compels you to become involved with those members of the community who have served and are currently serving in our armed services.

On a cool afternoon in October of 2005, I was working in the Patrol Division with the Wasco County Sheriff's Office when I was dispatched to Mid-Columbia Medical Center. I was told by the dispatcher there was a male subject in the emergency room on a Police Officer Hold for wanting to hurt himself.

Upon arrival at MCMC, I was led to the patient's room and introduced to Brian Leavitt. According to reports, Brian had talked about committing suicide and was awaiting an evaluation from staff of Mid- Columbia Center for Living.

While at the hospital I struck up a conversation with Brian and inquired as to why he would want to hurt himself. Brian indicated he had been struggling with these types of thoughts for the last three to six months and "just wanted help." He indicated to me he was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the U.S. military. He said the readjustment to civilian life had been pretty hard and during this time he had lost his relationship with his girlfriend. He also told me he had asked numerous times for assistance with his suicidal thoughts from the Veteran's Hospital in Portland but was told they did not have any "openings" to speak with someone for at least one month

As I listened to Brian's story about serving our country and then returning home, I couldn't help but feel some of his pain. Although I'm not a veteran myself, I felt it was my obligation to assist Brian to the best of my abilities. I felt he had served our great country and sacrificed his personal life to make sure I could be free and safe to live here.

While at the hospital I asked Brian if he had the phone number for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Portland. He provided me with the phone number he had been using and I called. When I reached the switchboard I requested to speak with a member who would know Brian's situation. I explained Brian's circumstances and wanting to hurt himself. The person at the VA hospital advised they were aware of Brian's current circumstances but said they did not have any staffers available to speak with Brian if he came to Portland. They additionally told me Brian had an appointment approximately one month later.

I explained to them that Brian would probably not make it for a month and needed help immediately. Again I was advised by the staff member there was nothing they could do. I told them I would be willing to drive Brian to the hospital if they could just see him. Not to repeat myself but I was told there was nothing they could do for at least a month. I hung up the phone discouraged the VA could do nothing for a person who had sacrificed so much for his country.

Less than five months later Brian took his own life.

On March 28, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by the Oregon National Guard for the sole purpose of learning about returning military veterans, and the effects of being in the military. The subjects covered during this training event included reintegration, criminal activity, domestic spouse/family issues, financial problems, job selection, and veteran suicides. As I went through these classes I learned a lot of things that I feel would be beneficial to the citizens of Wasco County concerning military veterans.

Here are some interesting statistics with military veterans that everyone should know. This is a limited list of the issues facing all veterans:

*There are 23.8 million veterans living in the US. That's almost 10% of the adult population.

* 1.2 million or 0.5% of the US population is currently active-duty military.

* Twenty to 30% of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Only half of these seek treatment. And of those, less than half complete treatment.

* The Army estimates that the total number of members from all branches of service afflicted with PTSD may currently be nearing 500,000.

* Eighteen veterans will commit suicide today. Although only 1% of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20 percent of all suicides in the US.

* Young male soldiers commit suicide at twice the national average. Young female soldiers are three times the national average.

* Oregon and Washington veterans are five times more likely to commit suicide than the general US population.

When reading some of these statistics it becomes very clear our veterans, not only out of the service but those returning, have real challenges facing them in the civilian life. However not all is lost with our veterans and there are a number of resources available to assist those who are having difficulties in the listed areas.

In an effort to make sure our veterans have services available to them, the sheriff's office would like to provide some information to the community about how to assist our veterans, whether they are returning from active duty or retired from the military.

As told in Brian's story, one of the main issues veterans face is suicide. The causes of this can be attributed to PTSD as well as having to readjust to civilian life. It has been learned there is a real shortage of medical professionals to assist veterans in this area and, based on that, I believe it is our duty as citizens to step up to the plate and assist in any way possible to stop this trend.

If you know a veteran struggling with thoughts of suicide or other issues, please get involved. By becoming involved you may be the link that keeps the chain from breaking. I have included a list of resources for military veterans who need assistance with areas of their life:

* Military OneSource Counseling: Free of charge and available 24 hours per day, seven days a week at 1-800-342-9647 or 800-3429-6477* (*overseas country access codes can be found online). Experts can assist with problem solving, coping with stress, financial management, family issues, marital communications, dealing with family separations, parent child communications, combat stress, deployment and reunion, crisis situations, grief and loss.

*Oregon Military Assistance Helpline, 1-800-511-6944.

* Suicide Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, press #1.

* OR National Guard Reintegration Team, 1-888-688-2264.

Several days after Brian committed suicide I received a phone call from his sister telling me he had taken his own life. I must admit, I see and hear a lot of bad and discouraging news being in the law enforcement profession, but this was one of the most difficult phone calls I have ever received. Brian's sister and I cried over the phone with the sadness of Brian's passing but during this conversation we both agreed, "Let us try and turn this into a positive thing." As time has gone by the pain has eased with the loss of Brian, but the memory of how he suffered has never left me. It will be a memory I will never forget and I made a promise to myself and Brian's family I would find a way to help our returning and existing veterans cope with the trials they face here in our communities.

Remember, our veterans are the reason we can live free in this great country and they have earned our respect and provision of all the resources they need to succeed.

If you know a service member who is in need of assistance you can always call the Wasco County Sheriff's Office at 541-296-5454. All deputies carry an information packet with them while on duty so these resources can be hand delivered to the veteran in need. Additionally, Veterans Packets can be picked up at your local libraries, community centers, some fire departments and the Veterans' Service office in The Dalles, 201 Federal Street.

If you have any questions or ways you would like to get involved please feel free to call me at 541-506-2592 for assistance.