Veterans Affairs officials are asking veterans to reach out to fellow service members and friends as part of the first National Buddy Check Week, a public campaign designed to reduce suicides among current and former military members.
The effort, which runs from Oct. 16 to Oct. 20, has been observed unofficially by veteran groups in recent years and was mandated by Congress in legislation adopted in late 2022. The stated goal is to “to build peer-to-peer connections, improve mental health, and increase access to VA resources.”
Roughly 20 veterans and military members die each day as a result of suicide, according to research from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That number has decreased slightly in recent years, but still translates into around 7,000 deaths annually.
Supporters of the effort have said that increased outreach from trusted friends and family members to veterans experiencing emotional trauma or lingering mental health issues could help break down stigmas surrounding getting help for those problems and better educate the public on available assistance resources.
“No one can replace the bonds between veterans who served together,” Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher said in a statement on the outreach campaign.
“Through National Buddy Check Week, we’re encouraging all veterans to reach out to their buddies, even if they haven’t talked for a while. And if a veteran needs help, please refer them to VA. Don’t let a buddy miss out on the resources they’ve earned.”
VA leaders are asking veterans to reach out to at least 10 fellow veterans or military members to see how they are feeling and talk about frustrations that could compound into more serious health problems.
“Buddy Checks are not membership or fundraising calls; they are simple check-ins with veterans in the community to see how they are doing and to learn if the local post can help with anything,” former American Legion National Commander Dave Rehbein said in a statement Monday.
Legion posts have conducted more than a million checks over the last four years, according to group leaders.
Individuals interested in participating in the effort can learn more at VA’s Buddy Check website.
Veterans in need of emergency counseling can reach the Veterans Crisis line at any time by dialing 988 and selecting option 1 after connecting to reach a VA staffer. In addition, veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.