VINTON, Va. – Young local veterans are helping raise awareness about veteran suicide by hosting monthly meetings just to check in on their comrades.
A simple dinner gathering at Macado’s can end up saving lives. Every month on the 22nd, local veterans gather at Macado’s to not just indulge in the discounted meals, but to also express any thoughts that may be weighing on them.
It’s called the ‘Buddy Check’ and is an idea that started in Radford a few years ago to help prevent veteran suicide.
But Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Co. President Mark Shelton, who served in the army for three years, wants to expand the movement to other locations.
“It’s still really hard to find their group, to find their clique,” he said.
Shelton said veterans just need a safe space to reminisce about the good times and reflect on the challenging moments, too.
The meetings are held on the 22nd due to a 2013 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs that states 22 veterans took their own lives per day in the U.S in 2010.
But a 2021 report tied to the Costs of War project estimates more than 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans of the post-9/11 wars died by suicide.
Shelton remembers losing a friend who served with him in Afghanistan at just the age of 25.
“It’s heartbreaking because it was one of the guys that kind of held the group together,” he said. “It’s really sad. I’ll never get to see him again. I’ll never get to have a cigar with him again.”
Daniel McCulloch is an Army veteran who said the meetings can be life-changing for veterans who may be on the fence.
“As veterans, we have an alternate sense of humor and a different way of thinking than our civilian counterparts,” he said. “So it’s like we are able to talk about things that you can’t with other people.”
McCulloch is working with Shelton on a new nonprofit called Big Lick Mental Health Awareness Co. It aims to tackle the stigma of mental health among veterans.
“Maybe they feel like they don’t have a voice,” McCulloch said. “So, it’s being that representation for them to help them.”
At each buddy check, one guest will highlight a local resource for veterans who may want to seek further help.
The Sunday Buddy Check gathering will last from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Macado’s in Vinton.
Shelton encourages veterans to take advantage of local resources like the Roanoke Vet Center to talk to staff one on one.
If you are looking for immediate help, call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.