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Soldier uses school project to combat suicide

Ohio Army National Guard Capt. Michael Barnes talks to a Soldier about the Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, a website and mobile app with information and resources for military veterans and their families to combat the risk factors of suicide among veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden) Ohio Army National Guard Capt. Michael Barnes talks to a Soldier about the Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, a website and mobile app with information and resources for military veterans and their families to combat the risk factors of suicide among veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden)

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — During his career with the Ohio National Guard, Capt. Michael Barnes has had many opportunities to lead fellow Soldiers through a deployment as well as numerous training exercises. He’s also taken to heart the leadership philosophy of taking care of his Soldiers’ mental health and well-being. 

Ohio Army National Guard Capt. Michael Barnes talks to a Soldier about the Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, a website and mobile app with information and resources for military veterans and their families to combat the risk factors of suicide among veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden)As part of his coursework for a master’s degree in nursing, Ohio Army National Guard Capt. Michael Barnes has created the Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, a website and mobile app with information and resources for military veterans and their families to combat the risk factors of suicide among veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden)

“I helped my first suicidal Soldier in basic training back in 1993,” Barnes said. “When I was in my company command, I counseled at least a dozen Soldiers expressing suicidal ideations. It is then that I truly began to realize how bad the issue was and also how suited I was to help.”

Barnes is channeling his passion for helping veterans to get a master’s degree in nursing, which will allow him to specialize as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. As part of his coursework, Barnes has created a website and mobile app to, as his website states, “bring together a wealth of information and resources to combat the risk factors of suicide.”

“I’ve known veterans who have committed suicide and I’ve heard my military brothers and sisters say, ‘I wish that I could have done more.’ I have even said it myself. The problem is that we say it in the moment and then move on with our lives. I decided I was no longer going to move on with my life without doing something,” Barnes said.

With his Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, Barnes’ goal is to create a nonprofit, build a network of peer-to-peer support groups and, eventually, establish transitional housing and a counseling center. For now, he’s gathered resource links related to topics that can be risk factors for suicide, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness and access to health care.

Barnes estimates he’s put in more than 150 hours of work into the project. His professor for the course at The Ohio State University, Judy Donegan, calls the project “remarkable” and plans to have him present it to health professionals during national conferences.

He’s done a remarkable job of bringing his own passion for his fellow veterans to life for those of us who are not military,” she said. “I want my students to do projects that have meaning, not just projects for a class that will go in a cupboard and sit there. My mantra is you can change the world one person at a time, and that is what Mike’s doing.”

According to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study, an average of 20 U.S. military veterans take their own lives every day. Barnes will be marketing his app to military groups, social workers, and shelters and charities that assist veterans.

“In the military, you’re taught to be strong,” he said. “Veterans are hesitant to reach out and ask for help. I want to provide them with easy access to help when they’re ready to ask.”

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