Operation Vet-Fit works to prevent veteran suicide through community-based programs and free mental health care. By combining fitness, camaraderie, and clinical support, Operation Vet-Fit has helped thousands of veterans successfully assimilate back into civilian life. Learn more about their life saving programs and advocacy work here!
What inspired you to start Operation Vet-Fit?
We started in 2012 when my wife and I offered free fitness classes to veterans at our gym. Exercise is a huge part of mental health and is a good place to start with limiting suicide ideations. I was going through counseling myself, and my doctor said that I could do more harm than good by counseling these veterans without training. I decided to get my graduate degree in social work so that I could provide clinical care to our veterans. Now, we offer fitness programs, camaraderie events, advocacy work, social justice initiatives, and free mental health care. After 12 years of serving over 12,000 veterans and 35,000 veteran family members, we are the only agency that has not suffered a veteran suicide.
How do you help veterans restore a sense of purpose?
For some, regaining purpose is as easy as getting back in shape. Sometimes, it requires a net to catch them. When we have a veteran who is struggling and having suicidal ideation, our “net” involves reaching out to seven people in that veteran’s life who he served with. Over the course of a week, each of those people calls the veteran one day. When a veteran gets a call everyday from someone in their life who cares about them, that “net” lifts them back up. All 7 of those people tell the veteran to promise that they will not kill or hurt themself, because when you make a promise to someone you care about, the tendency to keep that promise increases. Those conversations reignite the spark that guides people towards purpose. It’s so simple, costs nothing, and makes the biggest difference.
What kind of support do you provide veterans?
When veterans transition back to civilian life, they miss that sense of community. Our camaraderie events can be dinners, sports games, golf tournaments, camping trips, anything that brings veterans together to talk, bond, and learn from each other. I am the sole mental health clinician and I provide free care to any veteran who needs it. All of our donations go directly to veteran support, which leads to a great sense of trust between us, our community, and our vets. Donors choose if they want their donation to go towards gym memberships, mental health sessions, or one of our other programs. While our mission is centered around veterans, the outcome has been shared amongst humanity. Humans require a sense of purpose to establish dignity and self worth. When that is present, suicidal ideation cannot break in.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part is being able to see the good guys win from time to time. It’s incredible to get a call from a once suicidal veteran saying, “Hey, I’m doing better. I got my kids back. I just closed on a house. I got the help I needed.” We get to bring laughter and light back into their lives in our camaraderie events. Most of what we do is so simple— it’s about bringing humanity together, supporting each other, and building purpose. Operation Vet-Fit is so much bigger than me, it’s a culmination of knowledge from veterans, their families, military leaders, and more.