FLORIDA, USA — According to the VA, every day, roughly 17 military veterans take their own lives.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new policy giving veterans free mental health treatment from any facility at any time.
The Fire Watch, a Florida organization that launched in 2020, is helping veterans get connected to those life-saving resources.
"We're trying to engage the community to recognize the signs about suicide, the myths about suicide, and what to do if they encounter a veteran that's in distress, emotional distress or crisis," said Brianne Brown, an Air Force veteran and program director with The Fire Watch.
Brown had her own challenges when integrating back into civilian life but found renewed purpose through her work with other veterans.
"I've been in suicide prevention the last several years and this is what I'm dedicating my life to just because of my personal experience," she said.
The Fire Watch offers free, quick and easy training to anyone who wants to better be able to spot a veteran in emotional distress and connect them with resources.
BECOME A WATCH STANDER: I'm on watch
The Fire Watch is the first of its kind in the country and keeps Florida-specific data. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have the highest instances of veteran suicide in the entire state.
Brown says the training helps community members understand military culture and gives them the tools and courage to speak up and ask a veteran one very important question:
Are you thinking about harming yourself? Are you having suicidal thoughts?
The organization also offers businesses and employers an opportunity to offer the training to their employees and become a designated Veteran Safe Place.