Thinking Big: Solving Suicide Among Veterans

Big problems need big solutions, and Terps are often asked to “Think Big.” Tell us about a time when you encountered a problem and implemented a solution.

As a member of a military family and a resident of a military community in Hampton Roads, Virginia, I found a passion for a problem that not many people acknowledge: the high rate of veteran suicide. Tragically, an average of 22 United States veterans attempt suicide every day. A large proportion of these suicides can be attributed to the inadequate aid given to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). One tactic that has been proven to help veterans with these conditions is the use of highly trained service dogs. That tactic was the spark to my own efforts: I brought to attention veterans’ lack of sufficient treatment and highlighted service dogs as a solution.

In order to raise awareness, I hosted a 5k run/walk event called “5k for a Paws.” The tangible goal of the event was to gather money for the non-profit organization Paws and Stripes, which rescues dogs from animal shelters and trains them to assist veterans with PTSD and TBI. Indeed, I was able to create immediate change by helping Paws and Stripes purchase the supplies it so clearly needs. With my turnout of 52 participants, I was able to raise $1,200.

Another goal of my plan was to educate people about veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI and about how service dogs can help. I included education at the event by devising an informational display, along with brochures, so that people could share their new knowledge with others. Furthermore, I put this information out on a website of my own design; now, anyone anywhere in the world can find it.

But there was a final stage to my efforts: I helped to create long-term change by petitioning the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. While highly trained service dogs could be the optimal answer, they are expensive, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs cannot at present financially help veterans get the service dogs they need. Additionally, the Department only provides service dogs to veterans with physical ailments. The petition creates a national link between the issue and the solution. By starting the petition and sharing it online, I attempted to unite people from all across the country by bringing awareness to the problem and how it can be helped. It is my hope that the petition will lead to change in the future and draw more attention to the issue. Through it all, I have educated others and, in turn, educated myself in the dynamics of change. Problem solving can be good not simply for the community but for the individual as well.

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