Designed to assist veterans and families
√ County clerk and Crisis Services want veterans to reach out if they need help
As the nation celebrated Veterans Day this week, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns raised attention to the struggles veterans and their families may have with suicide or a mental health diagnosis by redesigning the card used in the Erie County clerk’s “Thank-A-Vet” discount program.
Kearns reformatted the popular veteran discount card to include life-saving phone numbers on the back of the card – one for Crisis Services and the other for Veterans Crisis Line – in an effort to help veterans or their family members deal with an immediate crisis. Both organizations provide free, confidential support, and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, every day, in an effort to combat this national health crisis.
The “Thank-A-Vet” discount card will have the following statement on the backside of card, “If you ever feel you need to connect with a caring, qualified responder, FREE and CONFIDENTIAL support is available. Crisis Services 24-hour Hotline 716-834-3131 or TEXT 716-300-2338. Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 Press 1 or Text 838255.”
Kearns said, “Erie County has one of the highest veteran populations in any New York state county, and we need to do all we can to prevent suicide in the veteran community. Our hope is that, by making these numbers readily available on the ‘Thank-A-Vet’ discount card, veterans or their family members will make that important call to either crisis hotline and get the help that can save their life or the life of a friend, neighbor or loved one.”
Currently, more than 25,000 Erie County veterans participate in the Erie County clerk’s “Thank-A-Vet” discount card program and carry this card in their wallet. Kearns’ team said, “With both crisis service numbers readily available, veterans and their loved ones can call, text or chat to connect with caring responders at the free and confidential hotlines of the Veterans Crisis Line, or locally with Crisis Services. All responders are highly qualified to deal with any immediate crisis.”
Jessica Pirro, president and CEO of Crisis Services, said, “Veterans make the commitment to put themselves in the mist of crisis and trauma to protect our country. The long-term mental health impact on our veteran community has to be supported, has to be honored, and we have to do everything we can to reduce stigma by reinforcing that seeking help is showing strength, courage and honoring their wellbeing. The creativity of this effort is a perfect example of how a simple message could make a huge impact in someone’s life.”
In its 2018-24 strategic plan, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) identified preventing veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority. Kearns’ team said, “The Erie County Clerk’s Office, Crisis Services and the Veterans Crisis Line are all committed to prevent suicide and assist those who suffer with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.”
Celia Spacone, Ph.D., coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, said, “Over 17 veterans die by suicide every day in the United States. Since 9/11, four times as many veterans and active-duty military personnel died by suicide as died in combat. This is unacceptable. We want our veterans to know their community cares and there is help.”
According to Crisis Services, getting help makes a difference: The suicide rate in 2019 was over a third lower for those who had a Veterans Health Administration encounter in the two years prior than for those who had no such contact.
“There is no need to suffer and, where there is help, there is hope! A simple call to a crisis line can get you the help that will save your life,” Spacone said.
Kearns noted the Erie County Clerk’s Office is ready to issue the newly designed discount card immediately to previously participating veterans as well as new veterans who wish to join the program.
Veterans who reside in Erie County can enroll at the County Clerk’s Office in Old County Hall located at 92 Franklin St., from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, or at the clerk’s Community Outreach Center, next to the Auto Bureau located in the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Current “Thank-A-Vet” participants simply need to bring in their current discount card as proof in order to be issued an updated card. Veterans new to the discount card program will need to bring in their original or certified copy of their discharge papers (DD-214), which will be placed on permanent record in the Erie County Clerk’s Office.
Anyone with additional questions on how to get a “Thank-A-Vet” discount card can contact the Erie County Clerk’s S.A.L.U.T.E.S. program at 716-858-6787 or visit erie.gov/clerk/thankavet.