SUNRISE, Fla. – The city of Sunrise is the first to adopt a new mobile app that connects military veterans with first-responders, according to a news release from the city. The goal is to reduce the number of veterans who die of suicide, reported SunSentinel.
The app is appropriately called Vet-Connect. It was created by the LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation, a South Florida-based nonprofit organization created to reduce the epidemic of veteran suicide related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Founder Janine Lutz created the organization in 2013 after losing her son — the foundation’s namesake Marine veteran who was deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — to suicide, according to the Sentinel.
“After losing Johnny, and the realization that we’ve lost over 100,000 veterans to PTSD-related suicides and the myriad of everyday life stressors affecting them, my mission was clear: facilitate support through camaraderie and building local community,” Lutz said in a statement. “First responders are often in the best position to identify veterans in a crisis situation, intervene and get them connected to our local safety net before it’s too late. The city of Sunrise has already been a great partner in this program.”
The mission is to get people help in a timely manner. South Floridians submitted into the Vet-Connect app are contacted personally within 24 hours by a veteran in Lutz Buddy Up Broward Social Club, the local chapter of the organization’s network of free veterans’ meetups. The group has had 50 or more veterans at each meeting since March 2013, according to the organization.
The Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense has approved the network of clubs as a mental health resource.
Furthermore, as the Vet-Connect app use increases, Buddy Up clubs will continue to grow by building on existing relationships with veterans’ centers around the country, according to the organization.
“Vet-Connect works instantly and then Lutz Buddy Up is the longterm solution,” Lutz said in a statement. “The city of Sunrise knows that when they find a military insignia or otherwise determine through conversation that they’re helping a veteran, they can drop that veteran’s info in the app and we will quickly connect them with a group of local vets that know exactly what they’re going through.”
In a report originally published in 2016 and updated last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 20.6 military suicides occur on average every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active duty service members, guardsmen and reservists, the report found. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year.
“I was on my last leg with the overwhelming amount of pressure that was building,” retired CW3 Dave Fleckenstein, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a statement. “This program connected me to a band of brothers I never knew I had. They are always there when I need them to be.”
Consequently, engaged first responders say they hope they can incorporate the app into their daily work by helping veterans in crisis.
“We’ve seen the success of Lutz Buddy Up in South Florida,” Sunrise Police Department Sgt. Darwin Arroyo said in a statement. “Our officers are skilled at de-escalating situations, and now we’ll have the ability to offer veterans rapid follow-up by a group of peers who personally understand the issues affecting members of the military. The Sunrise Police Department and Sunrise Fire Rescue plan to incorporate Vet-Connect into briefings with all first-responder personnel.”
Vet-Connect is available for download now from the Google Play app store for Android phones and the iTunes app store for Apple phones.
“I am confident that the city of Sunrise Police and Fire Rescue Departments will set a great example for other agencies throughout the country in recognizing these Buddy Up Social Clubs and the Vet-Connect app as community building and lifesaving best practices,” Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan said in a statement. “In addition to our designation as a Purple Heart City and our reservation of special parking spaces for Combat Wounded veterans at city facilities, initiatives such as our Veterans Advisory Board have consistently given a voice to veterans’ concerns. We’re proud to do more to honor the sacrifices of members of our military and lessen their distress by spreading the awareness of Vet-Connect.”