Local veterans struggle with isolation amid COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 6:13 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - One of our few defenses against COVID-19, self-isolation and social distancing, is the very thing pushing some veterans to suicide.

“If you’re not able to be engaged mentally and physically, that allows you to fall into a place where you have no option than to think about the negatives you’re experiencing now, or the bad things that happened during combat,” Joe Trader, veteran and founder of 22 Heartbeats said.

22 Heartbeats is a non-profit which hosts panels for veterans examining the reasons why some veterans find success after leaving the service and others struggle. It’s named after the 22 estimated veterans who die by suicide each day.

Trader said what he’s found through the panels is that camaraderie and connectivity are often what helps a veteran overcome mental health challenges. But COVID-19 has taken much of that camaraderie away.

Nationally, its estimated that military suicides are up 20%.

“If they don’t have anybody to talk to I can just become to much for some veterans,” Trader said.

At example of community events canceled due to COVID-19 are the once monthly “Buddy Checks” hosted through Lutheran Family Services.

Adam Armstrong who puts the Buddy Checks on, and is a veteran himself, said these meetings provide a safe place for veterans to talk about their successes and struggles that are unique to former service men and women.

“We’re a group of individuals who have faced different challenges than 99% of the country,” Armstrong said.

But with COVID-19, those Buddy Checks aren’t happening.

“We hosted them over Zoom for a while and at first it was going really well, but honestly you get tired of staring at screens and attendance just kept dwindling.”

Armstrong said he too has seen the impact of isolation on veterans.

“Isolation is one of the hardest things for a veteran,” Armstrong said. “Isolation causes issues to arise, not having anybody to talk to causes more.”

Trader said he himself struggles with the lack of opportunities for engagement.

“Staying engaged has been a savior for me,” Trader said. “So its a concern for veterans these days.”

Trader’s advice for veterans is to try and connect as much as possible with fellow veterans through Zoom or phone calls, to pick up a new hobby or take the extra time to reach out to a veteran you think may be struggling.

Armstrong said Lutheran Family Services still has resources to help veterans, like telehealth appointments with therapists. But most importantly, know you’re not alone.

“You still have value, there are people there to jump into your corner, to be there for you,” Armstrong said.

Learn more about 22 Heartbeats here and Lutheran Family Services here.

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