Today, Second Lady Karen Pence traveled to Georgia to raise awareness on suicide prevention programs for military service members and veterans and to thank service members and military families for their service. The Second Lady was joined by:
- Deputy Secretary David Norquist, U.S. Department of Defense
- Acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, Executive Director, Office of Force Resiliency for the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness
- Mrs. Leah Esper, Spouse of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
- Mrs. Stephanie Norquist, Spouse of Deputy Secretary David Norquist
First, Mrs. Pence visited Fort Stewart – Hunter Army Airfield. There, Mrs. Pence participated in a roundtable discussion from senior military leaders and behavioral health team members regarding the Department of Defense’s (DoD) mental health programs available to active duty service members and families. Mrs. Pence gave brief remarks highlighting the importance of mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts and her role as the Lead Ambassador for PREVENTS. Lastly, she heard testimonials from soldiers.
Following the briefing, Mrs. Pence was shown a display of aircraft and wheeled vehicles, including equipment used by the soldiers for training purposes. Then, she delivered remarks to soldiers, military families, and veterans thanking them for their honorable service to the defense of our Nation. She also highlighted the importance of mental health and suicide prevention awareness during National Suicide Prevention Month.
“Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military,” said Second Lady Karen Pence. “It is time to change the culture around suicide and mental health and erase the stigma. I was inspired by the work at Fort Stewart- Hunter to encourage service members to reach out and ask for help when needed.”
The second half of the Second Lady’s trip to Georgia consisted of visiting Emory Healthcare Veterans Program facility in Atlanta. Emory works to treat the invisible wounds of post-9/11 veterans and active duty service members through innovative clinical care, research, and education. There, Mrs. Pence toured the facility which included seeing their telemedicine program, virtual reality technology, and Startle Booth, which is a room where patients take part in studies that measure physiological and biological responses to stress or trauma.
Following the tour, Mrs. Pence participated in a roundtable discussion with members of the Emory team and they provided an overview about their program for military service members and veterans, including information about their work to research and address suicidal ideology. Then, a veteran who participated in the program shared his story, and his wife and two adult children shared how they saw the veteran heal through the program.
“Emory’s program provides valuable comprehensive treatment to veterans and service members seeking treatment for a variety of mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI),” said Second Lady Karen Pence. “I am encouraged by the work being done to better heal Veterans heal from invisible wounds of war.”