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Home » Wyoming’s Veterans Talking to Veterans Program Wins Top National Award for Innovative Suicide Prevention Initiative

Wyoming’s Veterans Talking to Veterans Program Wins Top National Award for Innovative Suicide Prevention Initiative

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CHEYENNE, Wyo.— In the sprawling plains of Wyoming, where the mountains meet the sky, there exists a beacon of hope for those who have served their nation. It is here, amid the rugged landscape, that the Wyoming Veterans Commission and the Veterans Talking to Veterans Program (VTTV) have forged a path to healing and resilience.

At the heart of this endeavor is Tim Sheppard, Executive Director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, and his team to champion the cause of mental health support for veterans across the state.

The VTTV has blossomed into a sanctuary for those grappling with the invisible wounds of war. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Honorable Denis Richard McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, awarded the program the Abraham Lincoln Pillars of Excellence Award for the Most Innovative State Program in Suicide Prevention on Feb. 24, 2024.

“I am honored to congratulate you,” McDonough expressed in a letter. “The program’s best practices exemplify outstanding delivery of care for veterans and their families.”

VTTV is part of Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s mental health road map, emphasizing the vital role of community-driven support in the journey toward healing. Unlike traditional approaches, VTTV offers a professional path to wellness grounded in storytelling.

Every week, veterans gather in coaching groups led by trained VTTV Coaches. These sessions serve to heal, where veterans are invited to share their stories in a safe and supportive environment. Through the art of storytelling, participants embark on a journey of self-discovery, finding peace in the camaraderie of their peers, according to the program description.

Expanded training ensures that VTTV Coaches are equipped to address a myriad of challenges faced by veterans, from financial instability to chronic health conditions. Their approach to coaching aims to foster resilience and empower veterans to reclaim their lives.

Testimonials from participants paint a picture of the program’s impact. Angelo Gonzalez, a veteran who has attended VTTV sessions since their inception, speaks of the profound relief in sharing experiences with fellow veterans. For him and many others, VTTV is more than just a support group — it is a lifeline in times of struggle.

“Initially, I didn’t know what to expect in the meetings, but I quickly learned of the unique method of using legends to generate discussion and provide a safe way for veterans and first responders to talk through, in some cases, very tough emotions,” he said. I have been involved in discussions on a wide range of topics to generate discussion and provide a safe way for veterans and first responders to talk through, in some cases, very tough emotions,” he said. “ I have been a part of a wide range of topics discussed and have seen a sense of relief in individuals when they are able to share their experiences.

“I highly encourage any veteran or first responder faced with challenges or those wanting to support others by sharing their experiences to reach out to a local VTTV group,” Gonzalez said.

Even within the walls of correctional facilities, VTTV extends its reach, offering peace to veterans behind bars. Inmate testimonials underscore the program’s universal appeal, transcending barriers of age and circumstance.

“I am thankful for the opportunities the group has afforded me,” said one inmate.

Another 79-year-old, an Air Force veteran, healed from issues buried for many years and are now resurfacing. The group he is in ranges in age from the Vietnam era to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“The sharing of stories and feelings built a sense of camaraderie and trust that I didn’t think possible between different age groups,” he said.

In Wyoming, amid the vast expanse of sky and land, veterans find not only solace but also strength in each other’s company. The program aims to forge a legacy of resilience for the future.

“I applaud Wyoming for your achievement and encourage you to continue to be a national leader in veterans’ programs,” McDonough wrote. “Your efforts and those of the Wyoming Veterans Commission have made a significant and lasting impact on the Veterans of Wyoming and the nation.”