This story originally appeared in the Redwood City Pulse, Palo Alto Online's new sister publication that launched Oct. 13.
To draw attention to the alarming number of veterans who die by suicide every day in the United States, a Redwood City band of bikers made a donation to a local nonprofit organization's suicide prevention program.
Post 105 Cmdr. George Smith said the 22-mile ride from the American Legion Post 105 to the Palo Alto VA had a great turnout with 40 riders making the trek to deliver the check. The goal was to get the word out about how there are other veterans and mental health resources in San Mateo County, which is home to roughly 65,000 vets.
"I want to make sure that all the veterans in our community, and I can only get to the veterans in our community, at best. I really want to make sure that the veterans in the community know what's available to them," Smith said. "And that they've earned this. This is not something that is out of the goodness of our hearts. This is something that we earned, as a veteran. The help is there. All you have to do is ask, but you got to know to ask. And if we don't get the word out, they can't know."
According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report on Veteran Suicide Prevention, more than 6,200 veterans died by suicide in 2019 which breaks down to 17.2 suicides a day nationwide.
"We feel that this is unnecessary and could be prevented," said Michael Toschak, American Legion Post 105 web editor. "We support efforts by the Palo Alto VA to prevent this."
Palo Alto VA spokesman Michael Hill-Jackson said the staff at the VA was honored to receive the donation. It was the first time that he remembered receiving a donation earmarked for the suicide prevention program, he said.
"Donations like these are very important and can really help us to do more," Hill-Jackson said, referring to the mental health support services the facility provides.
The team at the Veteran Suicide Prevention Program in Palo Alto takes calls directly from the Veterans Crisis Line call centers that are rerouted to the catchment area that serves Palo Alto and surrounding areas, said Erin Dale, suicide prevention coordinator.
"They can be calls, anywhere from someone who is actively suicidal and needs help or needs to talk to someone," Dale said. "If it's really an emergency before it gets to us, the Veterans Crisis Line will actually triage and do a welfare check with the police."
The Palo Alto facility gets roughly 50 to 75 calls a week, but depending on the week, it could be much higher, Dale said.
Veterans Day, 9/11 and most recently the "turmoil in Afghanistan" have proven to be a lot busier for the call center, when the veterans' anxiety is higher, Dale said.
Smith said the donation wasn't the first time the veterans' group raised money for suicide prevention and it will definitely not be the last.
"We are going to be doing this every year and we'll get more people involved, more of the veterans' organizations involved so that we can get maybe $10,000 next time," Smith said.
Dale is thankful for the donation, too.
"It brings awareness" to suicide rates in veterans, Dale said.
Most people I've talked to have been touched by suicide in some way, either they know someone directly or a friend of a friend or a distant relative, Dale said. "So it's really kind of daunting how prevalent it is."
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454.