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Combatting veteran suicide: Free health clinic opening in Wesley Chapel

The death by suicide rate for young service members in 2020 was well over double the rate for civilians of the same age.

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — A Tampa-based nonprofit is working to provide free health care to veterans across the country. SOF Missions was founded by military veterans, Dr. Damon and Dayna Friedman. The organization's mission is to combat the veteran suicide crisis.

According to reports from the Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death by suicide rate for young service members in 2020 was well over double the rate for civilians the same age and higher than all age demographics in the civilian population.

Damon is a retired Lt. Colonel within the special operations community. He has 20 years of service under his belt. He served four combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. His wife Dayna also served for 20 years. 

“This is a very personal issue," Dayna Friedman said. "My husband and I spent 20 years in the military. And actually, this organization was grown out of our struggles and challenges that we went through in the military.“

SOF Missions will host its first clinic of the year, called "Be Resilient" at its Saddlebrook resort from Feb. 3-7. The program was first introduced in February 2021, offering five-day intensive wellness clinics to help wounded veterans overcome obstacles brought on by their service to the military. 

These services include treatments for PTSD, acute pain, sleep issues, isolation, stress and moral injuries. The treatments are customized to each veteran's needs.

“Tampa has a large, diverse community of more than 1.5 million veterans, each of whom may be suffering from physical, mental, or emotional injury,” said Damon. “These injuries can hold some veterans back from being the best possible versions of themselves. At SOF Missions, we give our veterans the tools they need to get their lives back and become forces for good.”

Getting veterans the services and medical attention they need is an issue close to Damon's heart. During his combat tours, he suffered five concussions, among other combat-related injuries. He was able to receive top-of-the-line care. Now it's his mission to make that kind of care available to any and all veterans who need it, free of charge, regardless of branch served, military occupation, or discharge status. 

The care offered doesn't stop at the end of the five-day program. There are 30, 60, and 90-day re-evaluations that are offered to veterans who partake in the wellness clinics. SOF Missions’ medical director handles follow-up care. There are also experienced case managers provided to a veteran in his or her local area.

SOF Missions also provides resources to get veterans connected with employment opportunities, housing, educational, and legal assistance, as well as care kits, referrals, resources, and financial aid. 

Nate Roberts is a Tampa resident and Marine Corps veteran. He participated in the "Be Resilient" program and was blown away by the first-class medical care offered. When asked why these services should be offered to veterans, this is what he said:

“It is because of the unique stresses and challenges, and then coming home. The removal of when you leave the military, or even when you are in, and become isolated. It breaks you. It hurts you. And honestly, it’s hard to find your way out. And the resiliency program brings people out."

Roberts said this program simplifies getting the care you need, without having to explain or justify why you need help. His message for anyone considering reaching out and getting help? Take the spot. 

“Every warrior I talk to, tell me upfront 'there are people worse off than me. I don’t need to go, there’s somebody else who could really use that. I don’t want to take a spot.' So, if you’re asking me what I would tell them, take the spot.“

SOF Missions has six other Be Resilient Clinics scheduled for 2022 in Tampa and at satellite locations throughout Florida, including the state’s only all-female wellness clinic for veterans in Destin. 

To date, SOF Missions has served more than 200 veterans and active-duty soldiers with clinical care and more than 2,500 through coordinated care, contributing over $3 million in treatment services to veterans.

Active-duty military and veterans interested in taking part in The Resiliency Project program can find more information by clicking here or by calling 813-920-0012.

10 Tampa Bay Cares: Help is available right now. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 at 800-273-8255. You can also Press 1 at that number to be connected to the Veterans Crisis Line.

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