What can a couple of Vietnam Vets do to help combat the high rate of Veteran suicide? Turns out, quite a bit. To hear Roger Pipkins tell it, he and his buddy John complained so much about 22 (now 20) Veterans who die by suicide a day that someone finally responded, “why don’t you shut up about it and do something instead?”
”And so we did,” said Pipkins.
That one question started a journey into the world of suicide prevention that took them up and down Route 66.
First, they applied for and received a seed grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From there, Straight Scoop for Vets and Friends was born as a small group of Vet-to-Vet certified peer support workers banding together to raise public awareness, provide training and link Veterans to services throughout the state of New Mexico.
The best part about this story? What they’re doing works. Straight Scoop reaches Veterans living in rural and frontier communities and provides “gatekeeper training” to show communities how to recognize warning signs and what to do to help. They also go on the road with their mobile wellness center & coffee bunker staying for days in one town and meeting Vets face-to-face where they live.
From the bunker, they connect Vets to VA and state benefits, assist with housing and employment and whatever else a Vet might need. Vets can also get a good cup of coffee and swap stories. From Roswell, “alien capital of the world,” to the Peanut Festival in Portales to the Navajo reservation, there’s probably not a post office or auto parts store left in New Mexico that hasn’t talked to Straight Scoop staff at least twice. “Persistence,” says Pipkins.
Maybe it works so well because, in addition to doing all the things science says are the right things to do, each Straight Scoop member also knows what they’re talking about on a personal level. Each has experience with suicidal thoughts or actions and the willingness to share their stories to help other Vets. That and they put in thousands of miles of windshield time taking their story and their tools where they’re needed most.
Along the way, the Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention, a VA research center, partnered with Straight Scoop. Recently, I caught Pipkens and Ted Skibyak long enough to sit down and talk to me about how they do what they do, and what other Vets with passion, vision and the gift of gab could do. You can listen to that interview here.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, reach out and call 1-800-273-8255. Veterans and service members, press 1. You can also chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255. Confidential support from caring VA responders is available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365-days a year.
About the Author: Melissa McHarg graduated from the University of Denver, where she was first introduced to psychology and research. She went on to work in the mental health field as a counselor in a residential treatment facility in San Francisco, California. Following a move to the midwest, Melissa worked as a freelance editor/writer, assisting multiple non-profit and educational organizations in the creation of educational resources. In 2011, she joined the Rocky Mountain MIRECC for suicide prevention, and currently works on product development, community outreach and partnerships. She also engages with providers, Veterans and community organizations fulfilling requests for educational and awareness raising products.