Warrior Center honors deputies for their compassion

Deputies help talk vet with PTSD out of suicide

OKEECHOBEE — While 20 U.S. military veterans die by suicide each day, Gregg Maynard wasn’t about to let his friend and fellow U.S. Army vet become a statistic.

“He was having flashbacks and stuff. He was ready to do himself in,” recalled Mr. Maynard of his friend’s thoughts about committing suicide. “So I called the sheriff’s office, and the way the deputies handled the situation was phenomenal.”

Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office deputies Bryan Holden and Timothy Porter responded to the man’s home and immediately assessed the situation and took over. They didn’t just slap on the handcuffs, Baker Act him and drop him off at a facility.

Instead, they talked to him. More importantly, they listened to the infantry veteran who had served in Iraq from 2002 until 2012 when he was honorably discharged.

“They talked him down and talked him into getting some help,” said Mr. Maynard, himself a U.S. Army veteran who served 18 months in Bosnia.

“They told him I was there and that I was going to West Palm Beach. They told him he could go with me.”

It didn’t matter it was around 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, Mr. Maynard put his friend in his truck and took him to the VA Hospital in West Palm Beach.

Once he was safely in the truck, Mr. Maynard said his friend expressed his surprise at the way the deputies treated him and talked to him for nearly an hour.

“When I got him in the truck he said: ‘When I saw them pull up I had in my mind they were going to throw me on the ground and rough me up. But, they talked to me. They talked to me like a human being,’” recalled Mr. Maynard.

“The deputies showed him a lot of compassion. Now-a-days you don’t really get to see that. They told (my friend) to call them anytime,” offered Mr. Maynard, adding that each deputy gave his friend his business card.

Mr. Maynard, who works with the Warrior Center in Okeechobee, said he felt the two young law enforcement officers deserved recognition. So, he and fellow vet and Warrior Center member Bobby Keefe recently presented the deputies with certificates of recognition.

You see, Mr. Maynard didn’t just happen on to his struggling friend. And, he just didn’t happen to know what phone call to make.

“I’ve been right where he was — several times,” said Mr. Maynard, who joined the Army immediately after his graduation from Okeechobee High School.

“When you are 17 or 18 years old — it’s a very impressionable age in your life.

And when you go overseas, you see things that are very difficult.

“I’ve still got problems, but I deal with them.

“And I do what I can to help out a fellow veteran,” he offered.

In keeping with that mantra, Mr. Maynard was busy Wednesday, April 26, building a wheelchair ramp at the home of a 94-year-old veteran “so he can get in and out of his house.”

Gregg Maynard here working on a ramp for an older veteran’s home.

Both Mr. Maynard and Mr. Keefe were working on the ramp for the Warrior Center, and doing so at no charge to the elderly vet.

“It’s common sense. It’s a common sense approach to law enforcement,” said OCSO Major Gary Bell of the way his deputies handled the situation. “They did a very good job. People who have done this for a while understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and all the other illnesses.”

He went on to say neither Deputy Holden nor Deputy Porter served in the military, but there are several military veterans who work at the sheriff’s office — including Maj. Bell.

He went on to say military veterans normally “… are the ones to pick up on it pretty quickly — especially the PTSD.”

As for training, the major said there used to be very little training to teach law enforcement officers how to handle someone who is contemplating suicide. But, that has changed over the years and more training courses are becoming available.

“There really hasn’t been a lot of training out there for law enforcement. Until lately, it wasn’t that easy to find those types of courses,” Maj. Bell offered.

While talking with Mr. Maynard it’s clear what’s uppermost in his mind is helping his fellow veterans — whether it’s providing a way for a man to become more mobile, or saving a man’s life. He hopes, and if he’s lucky, helping other veterans when they’re in need will “… earn me a spot in heaven.”

Two Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office deputies were honored Tuesday, April 25, 2017, when they were given certificates of recognition for the manner in which they helped a local U.S. Army veteran who was contemplating suicide. On hand for the presentation were: (left to right) Gregg Maynard, his son Jack, Bobby Keefe, Deputy Timothy Porter, Deputy Bryan Holden, Sheriff Noel Stephen and Bianca Keefe.


There is a record rate of suicides in the U.S. among veterans

The numbers are chilling. In the year 2014, 41,425 adults in the United States died by suicide. Of those, 18 percent — or, 7,403 — were veterans of the U.S. military.

Data from that July 2016 study by the Veterans Administration (VA) went on to show that in 2014, an average of 20 U.S. military veterans died each day from suicide. Sadly, six of those 20 were users of VA services.

“Veterans, per capita, have a higher rate of suicide over private citizens,” said Kenita Gordon, public affairs coordinator for the VA Hospital in West Palm Beach.

She went on to say among the veterans who die from suicide, female vets have the highest rate of death.

Ms. Gordon said the rate of death by suicide among the civilian population is 7.2 percent per 100,000.

“For U.S. female veterans, that rate was 18.9 percent per 100,000 in 2014,” she added.

According to that 2016 study, the VA relies on many sources to get information that identifies those deaths that were likely due to suicide. From 1979 to 2014, the VA examined over 50 million veteran records from every state in the nation.

Some of the statistics gleaned from that information are:

• In 2014, veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths among U.S. adults, while veterans constituted 8.5 percent of the U.S. population. In 2010, veterans accounted for 22 percent of all deaths from suicide and 9.7 percent of the population.

• About 66 percent of all veteran deaths from suicide were the result of firearm injuries.

• There is continued evidence of high burden of suicide among middle-aged and older adult veterans. In 2014, about 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide were 50 years of age or older.

• After adjusting for differences in age and gender in 2014, the risk for suicide was 21 percent higher among veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adults.

• After adjusting for differences in age in 2014, the risk for suicide was 18 percent higher among male veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adult males.

• After adjusting for differences in age in 2014, the risk for suicide was 2.4 times higher among female veterans when compared to U.S. civilian adult females.

“Female veterans are the highest statistical climbing population right now,” said Fred Borowicz, a licensed clinical social worker and suicide prevention coordinator at the VA hospital in West Palm. “But, the population of biggest risks are vets over 65 years of age. They are about three times more likely to be successful at suicide.”

Women, he continued, will more frequently die by suicide by overdosing or cutting.

When asked about indications that someone is having suicidal ideations, Mr. Borowicz replied there are numerous signs. He said friends and family should have safety plans that revolve around triggers — such as divorce, an anniversary, an abusive relationship, family arguments or substance abuse.

Some other signs include overeating, crying a lot, not eating enough, not taking their prescriptions, their arms/legs/body feel heavy and they have feelings that can’t cope.

Once the signs have been identified, do something to get that person’s mind off those things that are bothering them.

“Get outdoors, take a walk — find an activity they find pleasurable to get their minds off harming themselves,” he offered. “People who know them very well should be involved in the assessment process to try and identify what might be going on.”

It is also an excellent idea for friends and family members to have a crisis safety plan.

“Have things such as a crisis hotline where the vet can talk to someone. Have the name of a doctor they can talk to between appointments if they feel the need. Also, have the phone numbers for churches and synagogues,” he said.

Strangely enough, however, Mr. Borowicz pointed out that family members aren’t always good at helping someone who is contemplating “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

He then spoke of a recent incident in Okeechobee County where a veteran’s friend recognized the man was struggling and contacted the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.

After the deputies talked at length to the troubled vet, he calmed down and allowed his friend to take him to the VA Hospital in West Palm.

“It sounds like the outcome was the right thing. It was a good scenario and it sounds like law enforcement did a very nice job of being supportive — by listening,” he said. “By listening, it validates their feelings.

“Family members won’t always do this — let the individual convey what their feelings are. No one has the right to tell you how you should, or shouldn’t feel.

“When someone resorts to suicide it’s because of pain — whether it’s physical or emotional,” added Mr. Borowicz.

Just what is the right thing to do when a friend is suicidal?

“If you come across a friend who is suicidal, when they start to plan or identify ways to harm themselves, try to convince the person to seek help,” he offered. “If they are refusing assistance, contact emergency responders through local law enforcement.”

Another conduit to getting the proper care is Florida’s Baker Act, which allows for the involuntary examination of an individual through involuntary or emergency commitment.

“This can also be family initiated,” he said. “A mental health evaluator will determine if more care is needed.”

Mr. Borowicz went on to point out that VA centers have been set up in a number of South Florida communities, including Okeechobee. These centers — known as a Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) — provide a means by which individuals can talk to a VA psychiatrist or psychologist via video conferencing.

In Okeechobee, that CBOC is located at 1201 N. Parrott Ave. The phone number for that facility is 863-824-3232. Mr. Borowicz said their hours of operation are normal business hours.

To find other CBOC locations, or what the VA has to offer you, go to www.westpalmbeach.va.gov.

For veterans, the important thing to remember is you aren’t alone — the VA is there to help you.

After all, said Mr. Borowicz, “we don’t want anything to happen to our vets.”

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