No soldier left behind for Veggeberg
PILOT, Va. — Ted Veggeberg’s small farm in Southwest Virginia is about the complete opposite of his last U.S. Marine Corp posting at the Pentagon, but he is still able to help those who served in the military.
Veggeberg, 49, a retired lieutenant colonel, raises goats and chickens on a 15-acre Montgomery County, Va., farm and is a leader in a local initiative within the Buddy Check 22 program to help veterans deal with mental stress and steer each other away from suicide.
Veggeberg said he sees similarities with the suicide epidemic in both the veterans and farming communities and believes the model for fighting this that his Marine veterans’ group has developed would work well for farmers as well as the military.
Sitting at the large dining room table in his home near Brush Creek, Veggeberg said the Buddy Check 22 program was started on Facebook by a Marine Corps unit.
The number 22 reflects research that 22 commit suicide each day. The program works to have veterans call buddies on the 22nd of each month to check in and see how others are doing, Veggeberg said.
In the New River Valley, where Veggeberg serves as commandant of the Marine Corp League Detachment 1190, he has taken its Buddy Check 22 a step further. Under his leadership, the group hosts a social event with a local business, Macados Restaurant and Bar in Radford, Va. on the 22nd of every month regardless of the day of the week, weather conditions or other activities.
Veggeberg said in four years the only time they did not hold a meeting was when Thanksgiving fell on the 22nd.
Veggeberg was quick to credit the restaurant, part of a regional chain, for helping to draw in veterans with a 50 percent discount on food and drink during the event.
The event is held from 6 to 8 p.m. Veterans from any branch of the military and their families are invited to come again and again. Veggeberg said the bonding that takes place is what makes the effort work.
“There are people who come,” he said, “who would tell you, if you asked, that they are alive because of this,” he said.
Veggeberg said while suicide prevention is always on the radar at gatherings, it is not presented to seem like group therapy or couples counseling.
At 7 p.m. one person is called to share something he or she has gone through, an article they have read or anything that might help someone else. Only five to 10 minutes of the evening is devoted to this activity before the socializing continues.
He stressed that a person may not get much from attending just one meeting but a lot comes from repeated visits that result in bonding with others who share similar experiences and needs. Having someone to ask for help is a goal of the effort, he said.
Like the veterans, farm leaders recognize the threat of suicide and are working to help.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture Farmer Stress Task Force has been organized to deal with this, Virginia Farm Bureau reports. It credits the creation to Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Virginia’s commissioner of agriculture and Dr. Amy Johnson, a nurse practioner with Centra Medical Group and the president of the Bedford County Farm Bureau.
Veggeberg, a Colorado native, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., who served in the Marine Corps after being commissioned as an officer. The veteran of 26 years in the military and his wife Heather knew they wanted something different from the Washington, D.C. area to call home. They found 15-acres covered with white pines on a mountain ridge.
Veggeberg first started raising chickens and then added fainting or myotonic goats and a sawmill.
They sell their brown Rhode Island Red eggs to Harvest Moon, a Floyd, Va. retail store offering local products.
Their herd of goats is usually under 20 but the registered animals are in demand as pets. He said they usually have from 15 to 18 kids.
He finds the fainting goats are easy to keep in place, and a low fence of pine poles keeps them out of Heather’s flowers. However, the flowers and goats are in an area surrounded by a high woven wire fence to protect them from predators. Veggeberg said has milled trees from the farm for his own use constructing several buildings with the lumber but has not marketed any of the timber beyond that.
He said before deciding on a small farming effort they watched a lot of farming programs on television and took on bit of advice to heart: contact your Extension agent. He says Virginia Cooperative Extension has been a major help.
He has also gotten support from the New River Valley Sheep and Goat Club. He is a member and is impressed with its leadership.
Veggeberg feels farming is a good fit for veterans looking for a new career, especially if they have a pension. The benefits of a challenge, being outside and working hard are parts of farming that he sees correspond to their work in the military.
Both the veterans and farmer stress task force offer suggestions for help. The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, press 1 or Confidential crisis chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net or text 838355.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925