Heroes to Heroes Foundation Honors National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month with Announcement to Expand Program to Aid U.S. Veterans
By Lisa Cardinale -
Tuesday Nov 22, 2022
The numbers are staggering. The National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report indicates that in 2019, the average number of veteran suicides per day was 17. That’s 17 sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters that served our country, who die by suicide every single day in the United States.
And while much of the research up until now has focused on PTSD’s role in veteran suicide, another concept related to trauma exposure has begun to emerge in recent years. Moral injury – a psychological response that occurs in reaction to acting out or witnessing behaviors that go against an individual’s values and moral beliefs – has been identified as a significant factor in suicide risk among veterans who have experienced combat situations. Recent studies show that this increased risk has been linked to a loss of faith or ability to believe in a greater good or purpose. According to a 2018 study from Smith-MacDonald et al., “Moral injury describes the profound distress experienced by military personnel as a result of a violation of personal beliefs. Impacting not only psychological, but spiritual, health, and well-being, MI is associated with spiritual/religious suffering and a need to find hope, trust, connection, reconciliation, and wholeness. Addressing spiritual wounds can help military personnel overcome fundamental barriers that may impede them from effectively engaging in or benefitting from traditional trauma therapies and having a more complete recovery.”
Heroes to Heroes Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting combat veterans suffering from moral injury, notes that individuals who are connected to their faith are four times less likely to die by suicide than those who have no connection. Through the creation of a research-backed peer-support program, the organization aims to assist participants in establishing – or reestablishing – their faith. This month, the organization will honor the importance of Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month by expanding its 14-month program to a 28-month curriculum informed by research conducted by Dr. Joseph Currier, a foremost expert in moral injury, interim clinical director at Veterans Recovery Resources, and professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama.
In 2018, Heroes to Heroes partnered with Currier to conduct a three-year systematic evaluation of the psychological and spiritual outcomes of program participants. Evidence from this study confirms that the organization offers a solution for veterans seeking reconnection, belonging and forgiveness. This highlights the potential effectiveness of Heroes to Heroes’ intervention programming in alleviating social and spiritual determinants of military-related moral injury, thereby reducing the risk of suicide in program participants.
Although all facets of the program are integral to healing, a key cornerstone of the Heroes to Heroes curriculum includes a 10-day journey to Israel – a land regarded as holy by three major faiths – in which program participants visit holy sites to connect with their spiritual selves, no matter their religion.
“Through the opportunity to journey to Israel, our veterans can safely and unashamedly explore their spirituality or faith at sites regarded among the holiest in the world,” says Judy Isaacson Elias, CEO and founder of Heroes to Heroes. “It is here that a great majority of our participants say they are able to experience forgiveness for themselves and others, in an atmosphere of support among fellow military brothers or sisters who have suffered moral injury in many of the same ways.”
During the three-year study, Currier found that veterans who participate in the journey to Israel and post-journey activities generally experience holistic healing, including steady reductions in both PTSD symptoms and painful struggles with their faith or spirituality as a result of moral injury.
A key takeaway from the study that informed the decision to expand the Heroes to Heroes program curriculum centered around the discovery that social connections made with other program participants who have similar experiences of moral injury act as a facilitator of recovery and healing. As such, the newly expanded program will incorporate one-on-one coaching and team support via regular online meetings. Monthly written assignments and access to social workers, physicians and psychologists are also new to the program, along with a robust alumni network that will offer continued support from former program participants.
Heroes to Heroes’ new 28-month curriculum is divided into four phases:
Phase 1: For eight months, veterans will focus on goal-setting, clarifying their values and navigating civilian life.
Phase 2: For 12 months, veterans will work to reconnect with their spirituality, families and community, in addition to finding forgiveness for themselves. This phase includes the 10-day signature journey to Israel.
Phase 3: The final eight months are centered on setting a life plan and reintegrating into their community.
Phase 4: After 28 months of work, each veteran will be part of an alumni program that will offer continued support and allow family members to get involved through additional programs and events.
To date, nearly 350 male and female combat veterans have participated in the Heroes to Heroes program, with countless veteran lives saved. Program alumni regularly share their stories of suicidal ideation or attempts, followed by powerful accounts of the lifeline that the organization offered them. None may be more powerful than that of Heroes to Heroes Program Lead Harrison Manyoma.
In 2003, while in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom, Manyoma’s unit suffered a serious attack via a suicide car bomber. When he returned home to the U.S., he began experiencing symptoms of PTSD and the aftereffects of significant moral injury associated with his time in combat — anger, nightmares, alcoholism, and a loss of trust in people and his faith.
“Following my service, I was in pain — physically, mentally and emotionally. I had lost my connection with everything and everyone important in my life and I was in a downward spiral that led me to the day I decided to end my life,” Manyoma said. “By the grace of God, as I was getting ready to pull the trigger, my phone rang. On the other end of the line were two coaches from Heroes to Heroes who called me because a friend had recommended me for the program. That phone call literally, in that moment, saved my life for the short term. The experience that I had with the program after that – helping me to establish a network of veterans and friends who understand my experiences and reconnect with my family and most importantly, my faith – saved my life for the long term.”
For more information on Heroes to Heroes Foundation, its program expansion and efforts around suicide prevention, visit heroestoheroes.org.
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About Heroes to Heroes
Heroes to Heroes Foundation is a non-denominational 501(c)(3) organization providing emotional and spiritual healing, suicide prevention and peer support for all combat veterans experiencing challenges with moral injury or returning to civilian life following deployment. Through its 28-month supervised program and specialized curriculum, participants are able to connect with their emotions, faith, family, peers and nation. For more information on the Heroes to Heroes program, visit http://www.heroestoheroes.org