The national leader of a U.S. veterans service organization made a stop in Jacksonville Thursday to discuss, among several topics, the growing need for more awareness of suicide among veterans.
Greg Heun (Hewn) of Louisville, Kentucky took a tour of AmVets Posts throughout Illinois last week on his way to the state convention this past weekend in Springfield.
Heun is the National Commander of the AmVets, a veterans service organization that he says for years has been known as the best-kept secret in the service organizations, but not for much longer.
Heun says the AmVets works to assist veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces from any and all branches, whether they served at home or overseas, and that the only requirement is that they were honorably or medically discharged.
One of his top messages as National Commander is bringing more awareness to the needs of veterans post-service, especially when it comes to the increasing rates of suicide among veterans.
Heun says the AmVets are fighting on both fronts in giving assistance to the local veteran, as well as lobbying for change in Washington D.C. He says change needs to start before a soldier even leaves the service.
“We spent four years, eight years, ten years, twenty years, teaching you how to be a solider, and we spend three days departing you from the service. There is no detuning, if you will, on how to be a civilian, and that what you did while you were in the service was in the service of your government.
You were told to do it, you didn’t do it willingly, you did what you were told to do. So that burden is carried with that service member, and incidentally, the female veteran population of this country, it has to be addressed. Because they are going to take over the male population before it’s over, in suicides and homelessness- that’s how fast it’s growing.”
Heun says the military needs to begin teaching its members on how to transition to civilian life at least six months before they are due for discharge from their service.
But Heun says it’s the boots-on-the-ground effort by the local AmVets posts where they currently make the most difference in the life of a veteran who is struggling after their service time is up.
“We have Veteran Service Officers that the AmVets employs and costs the veteran absolutely nothing. It’s zero. We will service every service veteran that comes in and needs help. We will assist them with the V.A. system no matter what it is. We are the only all-inclusive, federally chartered veterans service organization. We do not discriminate against anyone.
There are a lot of times where people come in to see our V.S.O.’s and they don’t have all of the information. All I can tell them is don’t get discouraged, listen to what the Veteran’s Service Officer tells you. A lot of the research sometimes has to come by the veteran, and sometimes it’s difficult. But sometimes, certain information, it takes the V.S.O. to get it. But they are going to do what they have to do to help you to attain what you need to, to get through the system.”
Heun says there is always room for veterans of all kinds to help out. He says there is a certain social therapy that comes from spending time with other veterans who have been through similar situations and even those who don’t need the assistance, can help provide assistance to someone who is struggling.
“You know, there’s a certain amount of pride when you know that you’ve touched someone and brought them in from a bad place. You can just see the change in them. That’s a really good thing. Some people are hard to reach.
Some are easy and some are hard. I had one that was really hard. Sometimes he drifts in and out and he’s not really fully ready to accept that it’s okay to be okay, and it’s hard to get people to understand that.”
To find out more information about the services the AmVets can provide to veterans or how you can help, contact the Jacksonville AmVets Post 100 located at 210 East Court Street, or go online to amvets.org.
And if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Or go online to suicide prevention lifeline dot org.