An opportunity to help a Veteran, or anyone else, in a crisis situation can happen at any time. Cemetery representative James Knight and his colleagues at Sarasota National Cemetery in Florida recently had such an opportunity.
Knight sat down with a Veteran in the cemetery’s conference room one afternoon to plan a funeral service. The Veteran’s wife had passed away six months earlier and her cremated remains were to be inurned at the cemetery the following day. Knight noticed that the Veteran was very depressed over the loss of his life partner and became concerned when the Veteran said that he planned to join her through the act of suicide sometime after the funeral. After speaking more to him, Knight felt that the Veteran was quite serious about his plans.
Knight reached out to his co-workers to help him talk to the distraught Veteran. They gathered as much information as they could about him including his home address, phone number and the fact that he had family living up north.
After the Veteran left the cemetery, the cemetery employees contacted the local sheriff from the county where he lived and a counselor at the local VA Vet Center. Both were on hand the next day to talk with the Veteran after the inurnment ceremony. He continued to speak of harming himself, so the sheriff’s deputies took him to a hospital for care and counseling.
Knight and his colleagues saw the Veteran being driven in the cemetery several days later by a gentleman they had not seen before. They were pleased to learn the driver was the Veteran’s son from up north. He had been contacted by the sheriff’s department and had come to bring his father back to live with them.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and a good time to raise our own awareness about the signs of suicide risk and the steps that we can take to intervene. At medical centers around the country, VA sponsors community events, health fairs and training sessions to educate and inform about ways that we can help diffuse a crisis and save someone’s life. For more information about how you can help Veterans access mental health support, click here.
Chris Erbe is a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration. He is a 26-year Veteran of the U.S. Navy where he served as a musician and public affairs specialist.