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.
A little moment can make a big difference in someone's life. The Battle Buddy Program, offered by Veterans Bridge Home, trains veterans to be aware of those moments when a fellow veteran might desire camaraderie or need a helping hand.
"It's like first aid training," said Steven Cole, VP of advancement at VBH. "You're not going to become a doctor, but you're going to be able to help."
This program addresses a serious problem in the United States. In 2018, 6,435 veterans died by suicide, according to the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That comes out to an average of between 17 and 18 veteran suicides every day.
The Battle Buddy Program is the brainchild of Dr. Nicole French, VBH's clinical director. She describes it as an upstream suicide prevention approach, meaning that it aims to assist veterans in making social and service connections which promote resilience and often head off a crisis situation before it ever develops.
In particular, the program is meant to help veterans who are transitioning from the military to civilian life as well as those who are facing any number of significant life transitions such as underemployment, a divorce, a new baby, an illness, or other challenges.
"The initial phase is basically understanding transition, understanding people in crisis, and knowing how to initiate those connections," says French.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to call 911 and get emergency assistance for someone in crisis. But most of the time, the need is to show up in other ways. With what's taught in the program, veterans will be able to identify when someone needs to be connected with VBH for assistance - whether that's assistance with finding a job, getting healthcare, or something else.
Part of the training is to help people get comfortable asking tough questions.
"We want you to be able to ask about military service with ease, be attuned to a person's experience, and practice curiosity," French said. She added that Battle Buddies are unafraid to ask uncomfortable and timely questions that can save a life, like, "Are you having suicidal thoughts?"
Anyone can sign up to become a Battle Buddy, but at the moment, VBH's target audience is veterans and family members of veterans across the state of North Carolina. To sign up, use the "contact us" form available online at veteransbridgehome.org or call VBH by phone at 855-425-8838.
The introductory Battle Buddy training can be completed in one hour. This is just the first phase - eventually, French says, the program will be expanded to include phases focused on building skills and knowledge of suicide and mental health such as what's taught in courses like Question Persuade Refer and Mental Health First Aid.
VBH launched the program in August 2020, and so far, about 180 people have completed the initial training. To measure impact, the organization will be able to track the number of people who complete the training and also the number of veterans who are referred by Battle Buddies to a network that stands ready to provide services to those who have worn the uniform.
"The success of this program will be to see it expand across the state," French said. "I'd like to be able to track these Battle Buddies by county."