Visitors and TV viewers focused on New York’s Times Square this New Year’s Eve may notice a message of encouragement to veterans tucked in among the bright lights and revelry of the celebration this year.
Vets4Warriors — a peer support network for veterans and their families — will host a billboard at Broadway and West 43rd Street with the message “You are never alone” and information on how to get help through the organization.
Officials from the group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, said the goal is to use the prominent site to remind individuals in distress that help is available.
“Reaching our nation’s veterans, military service members, and their families to ensure they know a veteran peer is available to answer their call 24/7 is invaluable to the health of our nation,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, executive director of the group.
“Raising awareness among the countless numbers of people that pass through Times Square will help get the word out and hopefully inform countless others who may not be aware this national resource exists.”
Federal officials and veterans advocates have launched numerous public awareness campaigns targeting veterans, troops and their families in recent years as mental health issues and suicides have remained frustratingly high in the community.
Veterans Affairs officials announced in September that in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available), veteran suicides fell to about 17 a day across America, the lowest rate in 12 years.
Even with that improvement, however, the rate of suicides among veterans remains almost double the rest of the American public, accounting for more than 32,000 deaths from 2015 to 2019.
Times Square is the center of New Years’ Eve celebrations for New York and numerous television networks annually, although this year’s event has been scaled back due to the upsurge in coronavirus cases locally and nationally in recent weeks.
Still, thousands of individuals are expected to visit the site and pass by the billboard on Friday night, and millions more will see the scene on television throughout the evening.
More information on support services from Vets4Warriors is available at the group’s website or at 1-855-838-8255.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can also contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.