JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Editor’s Note: With the implementation of shelter-in-place orders nationwide and new schedules for those still working, citizens at home have an increased risk of severe interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, such as sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide, and those continuing to report for duty have relational difficulties to overcome as well. This is the second in a series on risk and resilience. Resources can be found at the bottom of the article. Please do not be afraid to reach out if you need help!
“My background is Army. I have 27 years of active duty service.”
With nearly three decades of military experience, Jose Villareal, chief of the 502nd Air Base Wing’s Integrated Resilience Program, is intimately acquainted with the unique mental health challenges that come with serving in the Armed Forces.
He had three peacekeeping tours and three combat tours, including the Global War on Terror, and he experienced the loss of people in his unit due to suicide.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” Villareal said. “Any loss of life is. I also saw people lose their lives downrange, but when it’s self-inflicted, and you see a person who has their whole life ahead of them making such a tragic decision to end their life, it’s very hard on me personally, and for the organization, it takes a long, long time to recover from that.”
Villareal said his work with the Integrated Resilience Program is a calling, not a job, birthed from the impact of losing his comrades in the field.
“I’m very passionate about being an advocate for service members, families, civilians and retirees,” he said.
Advocacy is the heart of the work of the Integrated Resilience Program. Found in the 502nd Air Base Wing headquarters building at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, the Integrated Resilience Program provides services to each JBSA installation to enhance the quality of life. These services include resources for suicide prevention as well as help for those struggling with substance abuse and having mental health concerns.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, periods of prolonged isolation might exacerbate some of the issues people are struggling with, including suicide, but the Integrated Resilience Program has resources for people in need.
According to Villareal, every single person has risk factors for suicide.
“It’s everything that life hits you with,” he said. “It could be finances, it could be relationships, it could be an injury, it could be a divorce. We all have them because we’re not immune to having issues in life.”
For prevention of suicide, he said Basic Military Training and technical school, as well as individual military units, host resiliency training that can teach techniques such as practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and maintaining physical and mental health to help people process any crisis that comes their way.
“If you never practice gratitude, you're going to think, ‘Nothing good ever happens to me. Just bad things,’” Villareal said. “But when you really look back and ask, 'How many good things have happened? How many bad things have happened?' most of us will realize that there are more good things that happen than bad things. So, you rely on the good things and acknowledge the bad.”
For people who are already struggling with suicidal thoughts, post-vention measures include psychotherapy, counseling and medicine. If someone wants their care to be confidential, there are chaplains, Military One Source and Military Family Life consultants who will not report to commanders. There is also the National Crisis Hotline.
For everyone, finding ways to participate in the community is vital. Villareal suggests reaching out on social media. Other options include phone calls and teleconferencing.
“We can connect,” Villareal said. “Social distancing does not need to mean disconnection. It needs to mean more connection.”
If you know someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, take action. Use the acronym, ACE: Ask, Care, Escort. First, you should ask how they are doing and if they are thinking of hurting themselves. Second, you should care for your teammate by remaining calm, being a good listener, and removing any objects that they could use to hurt themselves. Finally, escort the person to get professional help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline as well. Never leave a hurting person alone.
“Things are always going to happen to us. This is not the first time something like COVID-19 has happened to us,” Villareal said. “There’s obviously a lot of tragedy, but a lot of people come out of it transformed. There’s always another day.”
Military One Source: 800-342-9647
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
JBSA-Fort Sam Houston
Chaplain (Spiritual Wellness and Counseling) Office: 210-221-5004 or 210-221-5937
Mental Health (Therapy/Assessments/Evaluations) Office: 210-539-9589
Military And Family Life Counselors: 210-421-9387
Emergency Room: 210-916-0808
Mental Health: 210-292-7361
Military and Family Life Counselors: (210) 984-1076
Urgent Care Lackland: 210-292-7331
Mental Health: 210-652-2448
Military and Family Life Counselors: 210-744-4829 or 996-4037