VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A former Navy SEAL from Virginia Beach is involved in a new organization that wants to reduce military suicides. It’s called Shot at Dawn, and includes a handful of former military members, medical professionals and veterans advocates.
“We have some pretty bad suicide rates in this country and they’ve been bad for a while. Some stats say 15 up to 22 a day,” said former SEAL Monty Heath, who knows what it’s like to lose friends to suicide.
“I think we collectively could have done better and there were red flags that went unnoticed.”
Shot at Dawn aims to reduce military suicide by finding those red flags.
They’ve designed a questionnaire for commanding officers. It probes eight different triggers for suicide, including any brain injury, sexual assault, substance abuse and legal problems.
The organization is named in memory of more than 300 British soldiers from World War I. They did not commit suicide. They were executed by their government for the condition then known as battle fatigue.
“If more and more commanders understand the precursors and these layers, I think we can start to make a dent and hopefully mitigate these deaths,” Heath said.
The initiative comes at a time when suicides in the military are on the rise.
They jumped nearly 6% from 2017 to 2018. Two weeks ago, three Navy members from the same ship, the USS George H.W. Bush based at Norfolk, took their own lives in the same week.
Shot at Dawn wants to attack the problem of active duty suicides and bring down the rate of veteran suicides, too.
“Let’s start documenting their baseline and how they’re looking early, how their mental health looks early so we don’t have these humongous problems in the VA that we have now,” Heath said.
According to estimates, an average of 20 veterans have taken their lives every day over the past 40 years. Heath says the key next step is raising awareness among Congress and the Defense Department, to get the Pentagon to adopt their screening questionnaire.