Spartan Pledge Day at the V-A,: Focusing on veteran suicide

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RENO, NEV., (KOLO) Lunch in the shade and a live band on a summer day on the lawn at Reno's V-A Medical Center.

Boone Cutler

It was pleasant setting to open a serious conversation about suicide--a conversation everyone was reminded, we must have.

"None of us by ourselves can stem this public health problem--crisis really," said Marlyn Scholl, a suicide prevention coordinator at the hospital. "Suicide is really everybody's business."

It's more than likely that some in attendance have or knows someone who has struggled with thoughts of suicide.

Some are here because of those personal stories. Denese Johanson--DJ--as she's known at the V-A works here as a volunteer because of a pledge she made to her Vietnam vet brother as he lay dying from a self-inflicted wound.

"I promised him that I would come over here to the VA and take care of his brothers and sisters and that's a promise I have kept. It's been very therapeutic to me. Very therapeutic."

Her brother Curtis took his life decades after his service, but a rising problem is the increasing number of suicides among those who have served in recent conflicts.

Boone Cutler began his conversation with a buddy he'd served with in Iraq. They knew each other intimately, he said, but it took the suicide of another to get them to admit to each other they'd considered the same exit.

"So the agreement became 'He brother talk to me. You call me. I'm your last call. Nobody punches out until they talk to me and I promise you I will not punch out until I talk to you.':"

That conversation was the beginning of what became his Spartan Pledge, something he's carried to similar gatherings around the country. It calls on the close brotherhood of those who served in battle and the common purpose they found there and applies it to crises they may encounter when they return home.

"The first sentence is that I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk with my battle buddy first. The second sentence is my mission is to find a mission to help my war fighter family."

Some of those here today had taken the pledge at another time and place. They were joined by most of the rest. A promise to lean on bonds forged in service to help all.

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