Local veteran looks to end ‘epidemic’ of veteran suicides

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Unsplash/Sydney Rae

A local veteran is working to bring an end to “the epidemic of veteran suicide” by helping those active duty, veterans, and first responders who suffer from mental health issues.

Chief Master Sergeant Edward Schloeman leads Operation Warrior Shield (OWS), a non-profit organization working to help veterans find employment, reduce veteran homelessness, assist veterans to obtain service dogs and offer free transcendental meditation training to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

“We work with first responders, veterans and military members who have stressful jobs, helping them to handle the stress especially when post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a factor,” Schloeman said.

Schloeman, the chairman and president of OWS, is a Marine Vietnam Disabled Veteran who served from 1960-1966 and also served in the NY Air National Guard from 1973-1955.

“Being a Vietnam veteran, our motto was ‘never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,’” Schloeman said. “I feel very fortunate that I am capable of providing this type of assistance.”

The suicide rate among military veterans is troublingly high when compared to non-service members. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, veteran women ages 18 to 29 die by suicide almost 12 times more often than nonveterans, while veteran men between the ages of 18 to 29 years old also died by suicide significantly more than those who did not serve — 83.3 for veterans and 17.6 for nonveterans, per 100,000 people.

Schloeman said he was inspired to start his work when his friend’s son was killed in Iraq and after meeting the late Jerry Yellin, a WWII veteran who suffered from PTSD.

Yellin had introduced Schloeman and Bob Roth, the CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, to the non-religious form of transcendental meditation. After learning the practice with his wife, Schloeman knew this was something he had to spread to others suffering from PTS.

For eight years, Schloeman and Yellin traveled across the country speaking on behalf of TM, partnering with organizations and introducing the practice to many who were trying to overcome their “hidden wounds.”

OWS now works with the David Lynch Foundation in partnership with the NY Open Center to bring these holistic measures to heroes and work with them to “build the strength to handle the stresses of life.”

Some of the services that are provided to these heroes at no-cost besides TM training include yoga, community acupuncture and workshops that address eating, sleeping, moving, breathing and emotional stability.

While OWS has been awarded by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce as “The Best Innovative Non For Profit in 2017,” Schloeman has also been twice recognized by Schneps Media as king of kings and has been placed in their hall of fame — an honor that he described as a “very humbling experience.”

OWS’s most recent initiatives include providing comfort dogs to wounded veterans and incorporating TM into the police department.

The chief explained that although it takes around six months of training comfort dogs, he hopes the organization will soon be able to provide veterans with at least a dozen comfort dogs every year.

While the organization continues to work to accomplish these two initiatives, Schloeman emphasized the importance of garnering the support from corporate sponsorships.

“I hope that we get the necessary support from corporate America that would help us continue this important mission,” Schloeman said.

OWS will hold its annual gala, The Healing for Heroes: Supporting Our Vets and First Responders Gala in November to honor the NYPD Health and Wellness Section and present two comfort dogs to two wounded veterans.

Along with these special honors, the gala will celebrate and support these heroes with cocktails, dinner, live and silent auctions, celebrity guests and live performances.

As the battle against veteran and first responder suicide continues, Schloeman is grateful for the continuous support  from his orgzanization and wants to encourage others to become active in the movement.

“We can’t get this done without the support that I have with my board of directors and the various volunteers that support this effort,” he said. “I am grateful for this opportunity and the ability for this to have been and continue to be successful.”