JONESBORO — Robert Murphy, Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1991, said the VFW is taking a three-prong approach to address the needs of local veterans in crisis.
“We got money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. In 2020 and 2021, we received $100,000 with each grant,” Murphy said during Saturday’s intervention/prevention meet and greet at the Roy Wiles Post on 300 Airport Road.
After using the first round of grant money to apply to specific needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter expenses, Murphy said the VFW wanted to use the second grant of $100,000 on a three-prong approach.
The first step was to provide funding for 12 local veterans to attend Warfighter Advance Training, he said.
Shane Perkins, the state representative for the Warfighter Advance Training program, said the program saved his life and his marriage.
“This organization was created to help veterans transition from warfighter to civilian life,” Perkins said. “They trained us so well to function under stressful situations, then say we no longer need you and send us home.”
Perkins said the Warfighter Advance Program teaches former combat soldiers to utilize their military training and make them productive in the civilian setting.
“It also teaches soldiers how to handle post-traumatic stress disorder triggers, and cope with them without the use of medications,” Perkins said.
Perkins said he is proof the training works.
“I was in four combat tours in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan. I was medically retired in June 2012, after an IED explosion caused damage to my back and my knees,” he said. “I had to have three back surgeries.”
Perkins said he began to descend into the rabbit hole of alcohol when he returned stateside.
“When I got home to my wife, I didn’t care anymore,” he said. Besides using alcohol to self-medicate, Perkins said he was on 22 different medications to assist with various ailments.
Both Perkins and his wife have been through the program. “The first thing they taught me is that my body was not designed to be on all those medications,” he said.
Perkins said he is now a huge advocate and will be acting as a state representative for the training to help other soldiers.
Murphy said there are currently several area veterans signed up to take the Maryland-based class.
The second prong of the VFW targeted outreach, Murphy said, is to help veterans in crisis and train responders.
Murphy said that consists of implementing a program to train community members in suicide prevention.
“Those volunteers do not have to just be veterans or members of the VFW,” he said. “We want health care workers, police, firefighters, EMTs …,” he said.
Murphy said funding for a certified trainer to train people in other counties was also set aside.
The third step was to bring in eight volunteers as part of the “We are the 22” certified trained intervention specialists, he said.
Mikel Brooks is the founder of the “We Are the 22” nonprofit that the VFW announced it was joining forces with during Saturday’s meeting.
“I started this non-profit three months after my suicide attempt,” Brooks said.
Brooks retired from the military from combat injuries.
Originally from Bald Knob, Brooks said he joined the 39th infantry of the Arkansas National Guard in 1999 and after being deployed to Egypt in 2002, he was then sent to Iraq in 2003.
“I also helped rescue Katrina victims,” he said.
In 2006 and 2007, after being sent to clear IEDs, Brooks sustained injuries.
“I retired in 2009, and spent a year in the hospital just learning how to walk again,” he said.
Fully disabled, Brooks said when he returned home, he was lost.
“I went from being a Purple Heart recipient and valor decorated to a junkie statistic,” he said.
“I just wandered around,” he said. “I was making $60,000 a year, but I was mostly homeless.”
“All that money went to feed my drug habit, and I lived in my truck,” he said, noting he had a serious methamphetamine addiction.
“I was in an abandoned house, injecting myself with heroin,” he said. “I immediately knew I had overdosed, I started sweating and I thought I do not want to die alone.”
Brooks said he was unconscious for 23 hours and when he woke up, the desire to do drugs was gone.
“I remember waking up and I was about to inject myself again, and I thought I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said. “I put the needle down and as far as I know, it’s still there in that house.”
After wandering around for two weeks getting clean, Brooks started taking care of business.
“I needed to focus on something outside myself,” he said.
Brooks founded the “We are the 22” organization based on the statics that there are 22 veterans who die from suicide every day.
“I founded this because I knew I couldn’t be the only one,” he said.
Currently, there are 70 responders in the state, who show up and assist veterans in crisis in two-man teams, he said. Brooks said the two-man teams have responded to more than 450 veterans in crisis.
“Not only is this helping the veterans in crisis, but it’s helping the responders also,” Brooks said. “We have 100 percent fully disabled guys who can walk, getting out there and trying to make a difference.”