Respect, love and wellness for our Choctaw Veterans

By Assistant Chief Jack Austin Jr.
August 1, 2023

As a sign of respect, most of us will say, “Thank you for your service!” if we are in the company of a military veteran or active-duty soldier. It is a small way, as an American, to thank those who protect this country and fight for our freedoms.

What happens when these veterans come home from their duties and the war memories are too much? The post-traumatic stress disorder they suffer from takes hold and they need extra care, apart from what the Veterans Administration Hospitals can provide, to help former soldiers come to terms with their time in uniform.

The Choctaw Nation is aware of the plight of our veterans, needing extra care when coming home from military duty and reintegrating into normal life. We have come up with a veteran’s help program called Warrior Wellness to try and help combat some of the issues facing veterans.

Warrior Wellness’s mission is to reduce Native American veteran suicide. The veteran help mission is to connect veterans to each other, the program, nature, and resources to help. They work closely with the Veterans Advocacy Department at Choctaw Nation headquarters but focus mostly on the veteran’s well-being.

Choctaw Nation will be hosting its first Warrior Wellness retreat that will bring together veterans’ families to experience nature and activities as a group. The retreat will feature activities that are geared directly towards the veterans, but they also offer fun cultural activities for children as well.

This first year for Warrior Wellness, we will have a presentation from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who will offer help to anyone that’s experienced or could experience combat. Lt. Col. Grossman’s talk will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 12 at the Tvshka Homma Cafeteria (163854 N. 4355 Road, Tuskahoma, OK). There will also be a reveal of the Veterans Hands art installation by Cece. A set of photos were taken in McAlester, and another group was taken in Durant of veterans holding items that are important to them. I had the honor of having my photo taken in McAlester last month, and it will be included in the display.

The Warrior Wellness Retreat will be held from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13 at the Tvshka Homma Tribal Grounds (163854 N. 4355 Road, Tuskahoma, OK). Activities with fellow service members and families at this overnight retreat will include hiking, fishing tours, smores, beading, and natural chronic pain relief strategies.

The National Library of Medicine recently conducted a poll of Native American and Native Alaskan veterans and discovered that age-adjusted suicide rates among Native veterans more than doubled over the 15-year observation period (2002-2017). In the most recent observation period (2014–2018), the age-adjusted suicide rate was 47.0 per 100,000 person-years, with the youngest age group (18–39) exhibiting the highest suicide rate, 66.0 per 100,000 person-years.

The conclusion of the poll found that suicide is an increasing problem among native veterans, and younger native veterans are at particularly high risk and warrant focused prevention efforts. The National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide emphasizes the importance of developing programs to reach all veterans, including selective populations at increased risk.

This year’s Warrior Wellness Retreat spots are filling up fast, but once you reach out for information, you will be provided dates and activities for upcoming events. For more information about Choctaw Nation’s Warrior Wellness program and to secure your spot, email our staff at [email protected]. We hope to see you soon at the Warrior Wellness retreat.

If you can’t find the time to come to the retreat, please get help if you have suicidal thoughts. There is help available if you reach out here.

Yakoke and God Bless!