JOPLIN, Mo. — You may have heard the term “22 a day,” referring to 22 U.S. Veterans taking their lives every single day. Many organizations are now aimed at curving that number, to help anyone who has served our country and may be struggling.

A local resource, fairly new to our area, is featured in our next installment of The Suicide Crisis: Prevention, Information, and Awareness.

“You’re taught to be tough. You’re taught to not have to think of weakness,” said Roger Koch, Ozark Center Military Liaison.

Roger Koch knows a little about the tough things our veterans face… He served our country for 20 years.

“Most veterans, including myself, would not come straight to an organization if I knew it had to do with mental health. It’s just that stigma, that we as veterans have.”

He now heads the VIP program, or “Veteran Integration Program,” at Freeman Health System’s Ozark Center, which began in the early months of 2019.

“With Freeman, you know, we can work with different issues. You know, the physical health. And then the Ozark Center can work with mental health. Beyond that, we work with the VA, we work with outdoor groups within the community. We work with the community. Just different things. Anything a veteran might need,” he added.

The goal is to teach veterans how to integrate with other veterans and then into the community

“If we once find out, or should I say they find out, or determine they need mental health assistance, then we’re there for them. But if we don’t, then we’ve at least made contact with the veteran,” said Koch.

And, if that veteran makes the decision to get mental health support, Koch boasts about the unique virtual reality program Ozark Center has called “Brave Minds.”

“We at Ozark Center, are one of the few within the nation that actually have this system.”

Users can virtually enter familiar situations or locations to help them cope with their experiences.

“Different things that make that come back and we make it where you deal with the trauma a different way.”

4-500 veterans were in the VIP program before the pandemic, but numbers are starting to build back up and Ozark Center is there to help.

“I encourage, I challenge veterans to remove the stigma, understand that it is not a weakness. This is stuff, we are ordinary people who experience traumatic experiences.”

If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now a simple three numbers… 9-8-8. You can call or text and be directly connected with a crisis counselor.

You can find more resources under our Suicide Crisis tab.