New powerful coalition aims to cut number of veteran suicides in half by 2030

USAA just announced Face the Fight, already has $41 million to meet goals

SAN ANTONIO – Audrey and Josh Madigan were a U.S. Air Force power couple. She was in security forces, and he was a pararescue specialist.

However, Audrey said her life stopped when Josh died by suicide in 2010.

“I think of this situation that went down every single day of my life because I was there when Josh took his life,” she said.

She admits she was wrought with grief, shame and even embarrassment for not understanding why this had happened.

“I didn’t speak of it to anyone until 2019. I really thought I was the only one. I had no one else to relate to. I had no one to talk about it with,” Audrey said.

Now that she works for USAA and has more knowledge on the subject, she realizes the problem is not rare at all — it’s rampant.

Nationwide, more than 120,000 veterans have died by suicide since 2001, including 526 in Texas from 2001-2020.

In response, USAA recently announced a brand new coalition called Face the Fight.

“Our goal is to cut veteran suicide in half by the year 2030,” said Maj. Gen. Bob Whittle, who retired from the U.S. Army after 33 years and is now chief of staff to the USAA CEO.

“I’ve had soldiers under my command commit suicide before, and that is always tragic,” he said.

He realizes Face the Fight has laid down a lofty goal, but he believes it’s achievable.

“The world seems to be getting increasingly polarized, and Face the Fight is something that we can all be in favor of. So we’re hoping that this is a great way to bring people together, not only at USAA but across the nation,” Whittle said.

He said the Face the Fight coalition’s mission is threefold.

First, it’s about breaking the stigma.

“If we can get people to share that they’re thinking about it, having suicidal thoughts, we can get them the help they need,” Whittle said.

Audrey said Josh admitted to her that he didn’t want to get help because he was under the false impression that he’d lose his job.

“I asked him to get help right before this kind of incident happened. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to because he didn’t want his weapon to be taken away from him, where he wouldn’t be able to arm up and do his job,” she said.

Whittle said, “If a soldier or service member has a suicidal ideation, we want them to get help, and we want to escort them to help. Certainly, we don’t want it to affect our view of their performance or anything like that, and that’s part of removing that stigma.”

The second piece of the Face the Fight mission is increasing conversation.

“One way is simply by calling a veteran or a service member and chatting with them, see how they’re doing and ask if they need anything,” Whittle said.

Whittle has heard stories about those life-changing conversations.

“They’ve made a phone call, and someone will follow up and say, ‘Hey, you know, when you called me, I was thinking about suicide, and I changed my mind in the course of that call,’” he said.

The third part of the mission is funding and amplifying the work already being done by the U.S. Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and evidence-based organizations.

“So far, we’ve raised $41 million from the three founders,” Whittle said.

USAA, Humana Foundation, and Endeavors are just paving the way for others to Face the Fight.

They already have 44 other companies and organizations partnering with them. Some, like UT Health San Antonio, are helping identify more organizations that could benefit from funding.

“There are also small organizations out there that are using evidence-based work, but that work needs to be amplified and scaled. So we’re looking for them,” Whittle said.

It’s not just companies joining the to Face the Fight. It’s also family members, just like Audrey.

“The re-living part…um,” Aubrey stopped mid-sentence, filled with emotion.

It’s hard for her to get through, even now. However, she said opening up has been therapeutic, and the pain she still feels will no longer stop her from sharing her story.

“Since I’ve told my story, I’ve had so many individuals come to me, saying how they were thankful that I shared my story because they were either able to relate to what I’m going through or maybe they were thinking of doing similar things,” Audrey said.

Audrey truly believes the coalition will be a powerful force for good and will meet its high goals.

“We can really cut that rate in half. I really, truly believe that,” she said.

She says to those suffering right now, “Everyone is going through issues of their own, but suicide is not the answer. It really is not. There’s so much life to live. We only have one life, so we have to make the best of it and figure out a way.”

Any person or organization who wants to get involved with the coalition can visit the Face the Fight website.

The website also offers a list of resources for veterans and military families struggling with mental health.

If you are suffering from thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 immediately. Help is waiting for you.

About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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