Combat boots were left, by Operation 23 to Zero, on the steps of the Minnesota state capitol to bring awareness to military and veteran suicide. The Veterans Crisis Line is 800-273-8255.
Brady Oberg Legacy Foundation Embodies One Family's Response to Veteran Suicide
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
BY NIKKI MEYER
Operation 23 to Zero. That’s the mission; to bring veteran suicides in the United States from 23 per day down to zero. This Minnesota-based veterans support and awareness group has been sponsoring activities to bring awareness to this issue and to provide opportunities for veterans and the public to lend a hand.
Every day in the United States, 22 military veterans and one active duty servicemember commit suicide. And most are preventable. It just takes a phone call to the Veterans Crisis Number: 800-273-8255 to get help rolling. But it is a call many of these soldiers are reluctant to make.
Deb Grote, Veterans Service Officer in Watonwan County said, “Locally, I am aware of at least two veterans and one active duty service member that has committed suicide in the last few years.
“A lot of our veterans that commit suicide have PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD and MST (Military Sexual Trauma) are the two leading causes of veteran suicide. The suicide rate among female veterans is 2.5 times higher than that of civilian females. Male veterans have a 19% higher risk of dying by suicide than their civilian counterparts,” Grote said.
“We call these service members heroes,” Grote said, “...But when they get out of the service and they come home, and after everybody’s been calling them a hero for all this time, it makes it very difficult for them to then tell somebody they need help. So I think they’re put in this position of ‘If I tell somebody I’m not doing well and I need help, they won’t think I’m a hero anymore—I’ll be letting them down,’ so they don’t ask for help. They suffer in silence until they can’t take it anymore and they end up taking their own life.”
Most of the veterans Grote sees are Vietnam-era veterans. The younger veterans she sees less frequently, she said. “The ones from Iraq and Afghanistan, very seldom will come in to file claims for PTSD.”
“What I often see are the symptoms, but they’re not admitting to them. And you can see they start having trouble with the law, or they start having divorce issues, they start losing their jobs, or they’re drinking a lot,” she said, “but they’re not identifying it as having PTSD... They’re in denial.”
These symptoms are the red flags that family and friends should use as signals for knowing when to intervene.
“If you think they’re contemplating suicide, you need to ask them—don’t be afraid to ask them. And if they are, you need to get them to an emergency room,” Grote said. From that point, the Veterans Service Officers can initiate admission to the St. Cloud VA Medical Center for inpatient treatment.
“The best approach is sooner rather than later. Get them into an emergency center,” she said.
Grote stressed that family and friends should not be afraid to approach the subject of suicide or depression with these veterans.
“When you’re talking to a veteran in that situation... imagine yourself back in a battlefield. If you’re in the middle of a battle and you need help, you don’t hesitate to call for reinforcements. Right now they’re in battle at home for their life; don’t be afraid to call for reinforcements. That’s what we’re here for.”
Veterans Service Officers treat those who seek help. Groups such as Operation 23 to Zero do their best to infiltrate the veteran ranks and bring help to the front lines at home. Ruck marches and other events are held regularly throughout the state to give people an opportunity to bring awareness and financial support to these veterans in crisis.
One such march was the Brady's Border 2 Border Ruck March held for the first time in May of 2018, just before Memorial Day. Participants organized into four teams that then marched in turns from the
Canadian border to the North and South Dakota border—240 miles in 10-mile increments—to honor fallen soldier Brady Oberg, one of 14 men, in a 140-man company, who committed suicide. None were killed in action, but 10 percent have taken their lives since returning home from Afghanistan in 2014.
Participants in the ruck march wore a 20 lb. military pack, representing the 20+ veterans who commit suicide each day.
Among the organizers of the ruck march is John Dalziel, husband of Andy (Marks) Dalziel, daughter of Pat and Curtis Jones, of Truman. Dalziel is a Marine Corp veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. While not in Oberg's division, Dalziel also lost a friend and fellow veteran to suicide.
Dalziel joined the work of the foundation through friendships with several other veterans who all regularly workout together at CrossFit Fargo. CrossFit Fargo was also a sponsor of the ruck march.
Writes Oberg's family on their foundation website,
"In retrospect, some signs of PTSD were there, but they weren’t recognized. No one realized how deeply he was struggling.
"After his return to civilian life, he tried counseling, but felt that those who tried to help him 'really didn’t get it.' He believed that counselors who hadn’t been in combat can’t understand the mind of a combat soldier and that the best counseling came from time spent with fellow soldiers."
Based on their experiences with Brady during his time between returning home and taking his own life, members of the foundation have set three goals:
• Creating retreats for veterans to "allow them to have fun while unburdening their hearts and minds as only they can do, together."
• Setting up scholarships for "combat veterans that are going into the mental health field as counselors or psychologists."
• Raising PTSD Awareness though events open to "the general public and to spouses and families who often do not recognize the signs or know how to help."
The mission of all those who knew Brady and who are involved in the foundation is "Promoting a Happy and Healthy Life for Combat Veterans."
"Please just pick up that phone," Dalziel said. "Just pick it up. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. I've been there. Just ask for help. That is so important."
The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). The website is veteranscrisisline.net. The Watonwan Veterans Service Office number is 507-375-1254. The Martin County Veterans Service Office number is 507-238-3220. For more information on Operation 23 to Zero, find them on Facebook or at their website op23tozero.com.