Coalition working to end veteran suicide in Northeast Florida releases strategic plan

NORTHEAST, FLA. — Action News Jax is learning more about the upcoming plans for the Fire Watch, a local five-county coalition aimed at preventing veteran suicides in Northeast Florida. We obtained the coalition’s strategic plan.

“Build a peer-to-peer, early intervention, mutual aid network designed to preempt crisis conditions by connecting veterans to each other and to the many valuable community resources available to them,” the strategic plan states as its mission. “Identify and shore up weaknesses in the region’s structure to prevent veteran suicide. Coordinate regional efforts.”

A peer-to-peer connection is something Navy veteran Daniel Bean, and Army veteran Christopher Dempsey, have developed as friends. Townsend said he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I went to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I saw combat there. I came back a changed man,” said Dempsey.

They tell us their friendship is a model for how the Fire Watch plans to help veterans in crisis, connecting them with other veterans who can be there in times of need.

“Chris and I have become fast friends, he is my battle buddy, I am his battle buddy and we sort of watch out for each other,” said Bean.

Bean is the chair of Mission United’s advisory board. Mission United, an initiative by the United Way to bring local veterans service organizations together, is one of several organizations working with the Fire Watch.

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According to the plan, the coalition is in Phase 2 of its existence, from January to April of this year. This phase includes conducting organizational meetings, public meetings for community feedback, quarterly Fire Watch meetings and developing an implementation plan.

Phase 3, the second quarter of 2020 and beyond, consists of developing and implementing Fire Watch programs, supporting veteran service organizations to enhance the Veterans Ecosystem, and refining a long-term plan.

The coalition aims to connect about 10,000 veterans with one another.

“This connection will enable fellow veterans to lean on each other and provide a caring voice,” the plan reads. “The challenge is to develop a sustainable, effective program.”

Other goals for the future include helping veterans receive benefits they’ve earned through the VA.

“Only 30% of Northeast Florida veterans are registered with the VA,” the plan states. “While the VA is not the only asset, veterans have earned benefits through their service and can potentially forego thousands of dollars of support for them and their families if they do not register with the VA. We can create a campaign to inform veterans of the benefits of registering with VA.”

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