Oklahoma City VA’s chaplain services recently held its first S.A.V.E. Our Heroes motorcycle ride. The ride began at the medical center and traveled along Route 66 to the Fort Gibson National Cemetery where Chaplain Mitchell Fincher from Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System assisted with a remembrance ceremony.

The purpose of the ride was to bring awareness to Veteran suicide during Suicide Prevention Month.

“We held this event to develop a supportive community for those dealing with suicide, addiction and mental health,” said Kristen Melton, chief of Chaplain Services. “This was a joint effort between Oklahoma City VA and Eastern Oklahoma VA. We appreciate everyone involved in making this happen. We had about twenty-five bikes and trikes join us for the ride. It was very moving to see cars and trucks pulled over during the procession. At one point, an elderly gentleman stood with his cap off as we passed, paying his respects.”

“We’re hoping people will notice.”

“My dad came back from Vietnam and struggled for three years before he finally couldn’t do it anymore,” said David Potter, staff chaplain. “Suicide changes lives forever and what we did on Saturday we’re hoping people will notice. We hope people will talk and help spread the work to prevent suicides.”

Veterans and Non-Veterans participated in the ride to help bring awareness to suicide.

“This here is another way of helping Veterans,” said Paul Niehoff, Army Vietnam Veteran. “VA has changed a lot since ’71 and this is just another part of them helping us and other Veterans.”

While this was the first ride to be hosted by the OKC VA, Chaplain services plans for it to be an annual event. “I hope to see future rides growing every year,” Potter said. “I hope I’m going to have to be standing on a platform to give the opening remarks and blessing because this is important.”

Motorcycle ride “reminded Veterans they are not alone.”

“It was very empowering to participate in this ride,” said David Castoe, a motorcyclist who rode on Saturday. “Besides bringing awareness of this important issue, it reminded Veterans along the ride that they are not alone and there are resources out there to help them.”

The acronym S.A.V.E. helps anyone remember the important steps involved in suicide prevention:

  • Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized.
  • Ask the most important question of all: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Validate the Veteran’s experience.
  • Encourage treatment and expedite getting help.

“One person can help SAVE a life,” Melton said. “That one person may be you by being there. Be there.”

If you or a Veteran you know are in crisis and need assistance, please call the Veteran Crisis Line by dialing 988 then option 1. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

More information on preventing suicide can be found at www.VA.gov/Reach/.

By Phillip Ybarra

Public affairs specialist, Oklahoma City VA

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Published on Oct. 15, 2022

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One Comment

  1. Donn H Martinson October 21, 2022 at 10:08 pm

    I am trying to help a long time friend of mine that is a Vietnam Vet. I myself am a Vietnam Era Vet, but I did not have to go overseas. My friend, John Youngquist, volunteered for the Army when he couldn’t decide what to do next and was tired of the stress from his dad. When John was about 12 years old, he and his younger brother were playing at their home in Oregon. John being the older was probably babysitting. Anyway, cowboys and indians was a way of playing back then. They found their dad’s revolver, which was not locked up and start playing with it. John thought it was a play toy and pointed it at his brother and it went off. He had shot his brother in the head. His brother lived for about 20 years in a special home because he was totally unable to function mentally. John’s dad blamed him for what happened and tormented and beat John up for years for what happened. John had to go live with other relatives it got so bad. So as an adult, he was still harassed by his dad, so he finally enlisted in the Army to get away. He said Vietnam was a vacation to what he had endured most of his life. He was in the infantry and continually volunteered to be on point when they were out on patrol. He had many close calls and got a bunch of commendations for acts of bravery killing Viet Cong before they got him. He was finally assigned to guard the Commander when he went out on helicopter patrols. I guess they thought he was that good and also they wanted to get him an easier job for all the risks he’d taken. He will deny that he was exposed to agent orange, yet how could he not!?

    I need to leave now, so I’m saving this for later. Anyway, about two years ago John tried to commit suicide. He went to his neighbors to try to borrow a high powered revolver, no one would loan one to him. Also he had was a 22 rifle, and with what his brother went through, he wanted to get it done permanently. He is still struggling and now lives in Mesa, Arizona. Unfortunately for him, his wife has mental issues and is on medication to stabilize herself. John is extremely depressed. He used to live up here in Poulsbo, WA. I am just trying to seek help for him. His wife’s son and family are trying to help too. Anyway, I’m trying to help them help him.

    There is a lot more to John’s trauma, but I don’t have time right now to explain. What do you suggest, since I can’t go see John myself, and he pretty much refuses help!?

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