SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — More than 6,000 veterans died of suicide in 2017, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the annual number of veteran suicide deaths has been over 6,000 since 2008.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports the rate of suicide was 2.2 times higher among female veterans as compared to non-veteran women. Male veterans had a rate of 1.3 time higher. Additionally, 69% of all veteran suicide deaths resulted from a firearm injury.
In South Dakota, the rate is consistent to the national suicide rate and the national veteran suicide rate.
One Sioux Falls native is hoping to help decrease those numbers. U.S. Army Maj. Chris Mercado is the co-founder and partnership director of Objective Zero Foundation.
Betsey Mercado is the Executive Director of the Objective Zero app. She says it’s designed for service members, veterans, veteran’s families and caregivers.
“We connect them to a nationwide network of peer support through voice, video or text. We also connect, get them connected to resources that are wellness focused and mental health focused,” Betsey Mercado said.
They also have yoga content, meditation content, free or low cost mental health care and the ability to connect people to a resource for many things the user could need help with.
U.S. Army Maj. Mercado says the idea of the app began with a phone call.
“It all started in the fall of 2014. One of my former soldiers, he was a squad leader in my battalion, was struggling with his transition out of the military. We had deployed together to Iraq. After he transitioned out of the military, I saw how challenging it was playing out on social media. His posts concerned me and it caused me to want to reach out to him and when I reached out to him, I asked him point blank if he was thinking of hurting himself. He kind of laughed and said, ‘It’s funny you say that because if my weapon had been loaded, I would’ve taken my own life last night.’ So, I just stayed on the phone with him for over six hours reconnecting, trying to identify what was going on in his life and what I could do to help him. At the end of the call, I asked him again if he was still thinking of hurting himself. He said, ‘No I feel better. I just needed someone to talk to,'” Chris Mercado said.
Chris Mercado says they named the app Objective Zero because they wanted to achieve the point where military service is no longer a distinguishing characteristic in suicide.
“Most of the services that are available for veterans are crisis services, but there’s not a lot there are pre-crisis. There’s the Veterans Crisis Hotline, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. All of those services are geared for someone who’s in crisis. What we wanted to was be preventative. We wanted to be upstream of crisis hotlines and provide peer support and access to care and access to resources before someone gets to that point of crisis,” Chris Mercado said.
If you’d like to help Objective Zero, you can download the app and be an ambassador, tell those who may benefit from the app and you can donate to Objective Zero on its website.