How our VBH Battle Buddy program takes that idea and applies it to the Veteran community. Simply put VBH Battle Buddies are Veterans with basic mental health training who can be there for their friends and are equipped to know the difference between a bad day and a situation that requires more professional help. Like first aid training, Battle Buddies are not seeking out people to help, but are tuned in enough and are prepared to know when someone in their life may need a friend.
The introductory Battle Buddy training can be completed in one hour. To become a Battle Buddy, use the “contact us” form here to sign up.
Charles Gunter credits his family, his faith, and his love of good lawn care with keeping his life balanced and his mental health on track. The 55-year-old served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve and then went into law enforcement, and retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in February 2021. Having lost a dear friend from his military days to suicide, and having responded to a scene in 2007 where two of his fellow police officers had been fatally shot, Gunter takes the importance of mental health and dealing with trauma very seriously.
"As a police officer and veteran, you see a lot of bad things that stay with you forever," Gunter said. "You don't know when they're going to come back up in your mind."
Over time, his experiences led to PTSD, Gunter says. But he didn't realize what was wrong until his wife brought it to his attention, telling him that he was no longer the person she was used to.
"I was always agitated with not eating well, not sleeping well, being withdrawn, I had all the symptoms but didn't realize it," he said.
Recognizing that he had PTSD and needed help coping with it would later inform Gunter's approach to policing. He went through crisis intervention training to learn how to respond to situations involving people who are dealing with mental health issues, struggling with substance abuse, or considering suicide. When the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department started up a full-time unit of eight officers to deal with these sorts of cases, Gunter was one of the eight.
"It really changed my life having PTSD and looking at people differently - what's truly affecting them?" Gunter says. "Because I had been affected in a way I didn't know was a problem."
Having seen firsthand the importance of a support system when struggling with one's mental health, Gunter is a big proponent of the Battle Buddy Program offered by Veterans Bridge Home. It's an upstream suicide prevention effort, meaning it aims to reduce veteran suicide by training those who go through the program to recognize when their fellow veterans
need a sympathetic ear, help navigating a period of transition, or a connection to medical assistance.
"The biggest thing I think we can do is listen to someone," he said. "You don't have to have the answer, but just to be able to sit there and listen, let them get it out."
VBH is targeting the program to veterans in North Carolina, family members of veterans, and health and human service providers throughout the state. You can sign up to become a Battle Buddy by using the "contact us" form available at veteransbridgehome.org or by calling VBH at 704-332-8802.
The introductory phase of the program can be completed in about an hour. Battle Buddies will learn to recognize when there's a need and how they can offer to help. Eventually, VBH will add more phases to the training to equip Battle Buddies with an expanded mental health toolkit.
Gunter said if there's one thing he can tell his fellow veterans, he wants them to know there is hope, even when they're going through a tough time.
"There are people out there who love you, who truly care," he said.
In his own life, Gunter finds peace in his family - especially now that he has a grandson. He also places great importance on his faith, and recently took some courses to become a crisis chaplain, offering comfort to those impacted by disasters such as tornadoes and floods. And the final thing that keeps him centered?
"My lawn care," he says. "Keeping my lawn looking squared away as any good Marine would do."