App to help veterans with mental health struggles

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EAGLE RIVER (KTUU) - The amount of veterans and active duty military members who are struggling with mental health problems resulting in suicide is a growing statistic. According to the Objective Zero Foundation, every day, around 20 veterans and one active service member lose their personal struggles and end up taking their own life.

Volunteers and former military members are now trying to promote an app that takes aim at that issue here in Alaska. It’s called Objective Zero, and according to the military supporters getting the word out about it, it’s an app made by veterans for veterans.

This app was created by two veterans of the U.S. Army; Justin Miller and Chris Mercado. According to their website, one day in fall 2014, Miller was close to the edge of suicide. He had been diagnosed with PTSD and had received head trauma after 12 years of being an infantryman.

One night, it’s said that Miller had been going through an extremely depressive state. Miller’s story says the only thing that stopped him from committing suicide was his weapon being unloaded and he didn’t want to wake his wife by loading it. He reached out to get help but there wasn’t an appointment available for two days.

That’s when his friend and former comrade Chris Mercado gave him a call because he was worried about him. They talked it through overnight, and they set out to help others who weren’t getting the help they needed when they needed it. So they started Objective Zero.

Janine Babusch is the State Director for Objective Zero who said she found out about the app after communicating with other military spouses. After hearing more about how suicide made an impact in the lives of other military families, she decided to get more involved.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said, “our service members are exposed to so many different, brutal things. I can’t imagine when they come home that things are ever going to be the same, but there’s a silence in active members of the military. They don’t reach out for help. They suffer in silence.”

Objective Zero made its way up to Alaska in March 2019. Babusch gave a demonstration on how it works.

The app is a way for military members to not only get connected to the help they need, but it’s a way to get connected to someone who has been in their shoes.

People sign up for it as users or ambassadors. Users are the one’s looking for help, and the ambassadors are the one’s offering to listen. Babusch said people signing up as users have the option to do so anonymously.

Ambassadors have to go through a training process in App through a video. Babusch said they learn about how to recognize the signs that someone is having suicidal thoughts and how to properly talk to someone in that state of mind. However, the majority of the work is done by listening she said.

The real key part of this app are the filters. If users truly feel like no one will understand what they’ve been through, they can try to find someone who can with these. There are filters for everything from the branch of the military you served in, to your job, to the campaign you served in.

On top of that, there is another section of the app where you can be connected to a number of other resources like events for military people near you, podcasts, quotes, and activities from sponsors such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

If these resources prove to not be immediate enough. There is a button that connects users immediately to 911 or the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

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