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First Coast program helping veterans catches attention of Second Lady

"We’re taking it to the next step. Not just reach out to veterans to ask them if they need help, but take their hand and get them the help," Howland said.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Every day it’s estimated that 20 military veterans commit suicide.

That heartbreaking fact is driving a First Coast group to get help for those in need and that group now has the ear of the Second Lady of the United States.

Nick Howland is a Navy veteran and the executive director of The Fire Watch. In his world, the term "fire watch" means to look-out for your fellow warrior in crisis.

That is what he and many others are trying to do now on home soil: stepping up to prevent veteran suicide. Howland explained how The Fire Watch is connecting veterans to services in five First Coast counties: Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns.

“It’s a little bit like CPR," he said. "If you can get someone to administer help to someone in acute heart distress before they get to the hospital, your chances of survival are significantly higher, and so we’re doing something similar preventing veteran suicide."

He was a special guest of Second Lady Karen Pence as she toured the First Coast Sept. 30 discussing the opportunities for returning service members and mental health.

“She was really intrigued by it because she has launched this reach campaign to do something similar and we’re taking it to the next step," Howland explained. "Not just reach out to veterans to ask them if they need help, but take their hand and get them the help that they need."

It is why The Fire Watch launched an app to streamline access. Warriors in crisis need only press a button, but Howland explained they can use some backup.

“In order to get to those veterans, you need the community engaged to do so,” Howland said. 

Become a Watch Stander: a person who can help direct veterans to resources. Learn more at TheFireWatch.org.