Troops First Foundation combats veteran suicide

Posted: 11:45 AM, Feb 21, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-21 11:49:40-05
Troops First Foundation combats veteran suicide
Troops First Foundation combats veteran suicide
Troops First Foundation combats veteran suicide

Feherty’s Troops First Foundation is a non-profit organization that assists warriors who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as their families.

In 2008, Rick Kell and David Feherty co-founded Feherty’s Troops First Foundation. Kell observed that they were gaps in the programs currently offered to veterans. He wanted to offer those programs, without duplicating the services that were already available elsewhere.

“We don’t need to create more programs,” said Feherty’s Troops First Foundation co-founder, Rick Kell.  “We’re very deep in that thanks to DOD and VA. They’ve got some tremendous programs, but they’re all geared toward the warrior that raises his hand and says, ‘I need help.’”

One of the organizations most effective programs is Operation Warrior Call. The program encourages service members and civilians to reach out to veterans who may need help, but aren’t directly asking for it.

“[It’s] a program that encourages service members, both veterans and active duty to pick up the phone once a week,” Kell said. “Make one phone call, once a week to check in on somebody that they’ve served with.”

Operation Warrior Call is intended to combat the suicide epidemic among veterans. Kell said that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. He believes that one suicide a day is too high and hopes that this program helps identify those that need help and then connect them with the resources available.

“We have found over the last several years that the power of a phone call at the right time is an amazing tool for us or for others to get involved with that warrior to help him through some dark times if they’re capable of having an honest conversation,” he said.

T.J. Brooks is a warrior liaison with Feherty’s Troops First. He served three deployments with the Marine Corps, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was injured in January of 2011 after stepping on a pressure plate IED. His right leg was amputated above the knee. 

Troops First helped match Brooks with his Battle Buddy, Macho. Macho is his service dog who helps Brooks navigate through large crowds, which can be difficult with a prosthetic leg. 

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Brooks became involved with Troops First. He supports the idea of helping the person behind you. He believes that Warrior Call epitomizes that.

“I think Troops First is really on the forefront of reaching back and getting veterans involved and a lot of it has to do with reaching out and reconnecting with people that you served with,” Brooks said. “With Warrior Call, it’s an initiative to get guys to call guys that they’ve lost contact with, but it’s also taking a call.”

Brooks said that sometimes it’s difficult for veterans to reach out to someone they don’t know if they need help, so receiving that call from a familiar voice or someone who had a similar experience makes a difference.

Feherty’s Troops First offers relevant programs that aren’t available elsewhere. They are the only organization that offers Operation Proper Exit. The program takes veterans back to the battle space and gives them an opportunity to leave on their own terms.

“We’ve taken 111 warriors back to the battle space where they were injured over the last six years and that’s been a very popular and effective program,” Kell said.

The organization also helps warriors receive Battle Buddies, or service animals. They’re launching a new program this year to offer transitional housing to veterans.

“We don’t think that the issues that we address through our initiatives are going away anytime soon,” Kell said. “So we look to stay relevant and a viable resource for the warriors and their families.”

Many of the organization's initiatives are not volunteer driven, with the exception of one. Operation Warrior Call is dependent upon volunteers – civilians, veterans and active duty members. Just one phone call, once a week.

“It’s as simple as a phone call,” Kell said. “We just need everybody that’s served – veterans and active duty to take the responsibility on themselves. It’s the only way we’re going to fix this problem. 

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