VA Northern Indiana Health Care System
Fort Wayne VA continues community engagement to prevent Veteran suicide
May 18, 2018
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry participated in a suicide prevention proclamation at the VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System Friday as part of the VA’s continual effort to #BeThere for Veterans in crisis.
The signing represented the on-going support in helping the VA work with community partners to prevent Veteran suicide in the local area.
At the signing, suicide attempt survivor James Garigen spoke about his experience and how the VA Veterans Crisis Line saved his life. This was preceded by the mayor discussing losing his brother, a Vietnam Veteran, to a suicide in 1978.
“I had the honor to serve our country and I take this very seriously,” Henry said. He later emotionally added that his brother returned home injured from the war and dealt with pain and depression before taking his own life. “That soldier was my brother, and even after all these years, it still hurts. At that time, what is available now wasn’t available then.”
The mayor spent time recognizing VA Northern Indiana’s efforts to treat Veterans with mental health issues. “What you’re doing today, I take very personally,” he said. “I hope everybody in the community recognizes your efforts in this.”
Later Garigen, a former U.S. Army soldier, discussed his struggle with depression and pain medication which ultimately led to a suicide attempt in 2015. He tried overdosing on opioids but before taking the pills, something caught his eye.
“I saw one of those awful, camouflaged 1-800-273-8255, press 1 bracelets,” he said. Taking the bracelet back to where his pills were, he picked up his phone and dialed, reaching a counselor. He talked briefly before hanging up. The counselor, identified as Tom, called back and Gargien hung up repeatedly. Finally, realizing the counselor wouldn’t stop calling, he opened up about his life and what he was going through. “June 17, 2015 was my birthday,” he said. “Because Tom didn’t give up on me.”
Henry’s proclamation signing is part of an extensive effort by Northern Indiana and community partners to add support to the VA’s #BeThere campaign. Resources are available for every Veteran if they are in a crisis, much like Garigen was in 2015.
“I’m here, because of what (the VA) has done,” Garigen said.
Veterans in a crisis can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to speak to someone immediately. They can also visit the website at www.veteranscrisisline.net and have a confidential online chat. Veterans seeking local care can call the VA Northern Indiana call center at 800-360-8387 and ask for an appointment.