Veteran mental health

One of the bills awaiting a hearing at the State Legislature is aimed at veteran's mental health.

Senate Bill 460, filed by State Sen. Eddie Lucio, would designate the 11th day of each month as Buddy Check Day. It is to encourage veterans to contact other veterans, including those they served with, who may need assistance.

Andrew Gilpin, coordinator of the Military Veteran Peer Network at VetStar, said he supports the legislation. In his world, however, he said every day is Buddy Check Day.

"It is absolutely vital for veterans to have that number they can call, that hand they can reach out for, just knowing that somebody is going to answer the phone or somebody who is willing to pick up that phone when they're thinking of somebody," Gilpin said.

511 Texas vets died by suicide in 2018, according to the VA. Gilpin said with more resources available, the problem is slowly getting better. Still, he said even one veteran dying by suicide is one too many.

"But it is getting better, as people do understand that it is indeed a problem, and that there needs to be action taken," he said.

Steven Lara, the veterans services coordinator at VetStar, said military members are usually assigned a "battle buddy," a partner through training, exercises and drills.

"That's kind of what I believe they're trying to recreate with this law and really emphasize that peer-mentor system," Lara said. "There's a reason why veterans are more effective as peers to other veterans because of having that lived experience of going through those steps as well."

Lara said he is excited about this legislation for multiple reasons.

"[It's] the veterans' aspect of it. Getting people together, the shared experiences, and recognizing that that is an important part of mental health and really evaluating where you are and integrating back into society," he said.

Never be afraid to ask for help, Gilpin said.

"Sometimes, there's things that you just can't lift by yourself," Gilpin said. "That's when its perfectly understandable and encouraged in the veteran community to stick up a hand."

To learn more about VetStar and the Military Veteran Peer Network, click here.