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Veteran focused, games-based charity Stack Up to focus on suicide prevention

January 06,2018 19:17

Stack Up, the military-focused charity centered around a shared love of video games, has announced a new suicide prevention initiative. Called the Stack Up Overwatch Program (STOP), it provides veterans and active-duty military personnel with round-the ...and more »


Stack Up, the military-focused charity centered around a shared love of video games, has announced a new suicide prevention initiative. Called the Stack Up Overwatch Program (STOP), it provides veterans and active-duty military personnel with round-the-clock access to a team of trained and certified crisis management volunteers. STOP will be available 24 hours a day through Discord.
Founded in 2015 by United States Army veteran Stephen Machuga (who also founded Operation Supply Drop), Stack Up’s mission is to bring service members and their civilian supporters together “through a shared love of video gaming.” As such, Stack Up supports U.S. troops, as well as other NATO allies, during and after their active-duty deployments.
The Overwatch Program is led by Stephanie Owens, herself a retired emergency medical services technician and career first responder.
“STOP was born out of a need,” Owens told Polygon. “I noticed a lot of people reaching out to me personally and wanting to just talk about things. Maybe they were having money problems or they didn’t feel well or they were having some trouble at home with their families.
“I just sat and listened to them. I offered an ear. ... I was able to connect them with some services in their area to help them out with some of their bills. And I thought, ‘You know what? I think maybe this might need to be a thing.’”
Active-duty military face extraordinary pressures in the line of duty, but after their service is over another challenge begins. A recent study by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs found that 20 veterans commit suicide every day. The new generation of veterans does not have the same support structures that their parents and grandparents had. It’s up to organizations like Stack Up, Owens said, to create a new kind of community going forward.
Stack Up offers veterans a sense of community around a shared passion for video games. Through the Stacks program, which Owens helped to build and still leads, local chapters of Stack Up organize get togethers and parties centered around games. She said that, for some younger veterans, it’s their only way to connect with their peers.
“When they started doing these game nights at the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] center,” Owens said, “we had people come out just for that. And they still do, to this day, and that’s all they will come out for. They will not leave their house for anything else. But they will go to these LAN parties.
“I think the younger generation and the older generation could learn a lot from each other. The older guys have a lot to offer still, but I think the older guys could also benefit from being around these younger guys, too. Because of my experience with the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] where I live has not been necessarily positive. It hasn’t been negative, but it hasn’t been positive.
“They’ve closed a bunch of VFW halls here, too, which is really sad because there are so many programs that the VFW offers that people could be taking advantage of. But all they are is just providing a place to sit in the bar all afternoon. That’s really sad to me.”
At the core of the STOP program is a small team of veterans and civilians. Each has been trained and certified with the help of Psych Armor, another non-profit that serves the same community. They are also supported by Mat Bergendahl, a readjustment counseling therapist at the VA.
Owens said that anyone interested in getting involved with their local chapter of Stack Up is encouraged to look into the Stacks program. Motivated individuals who want to apply to be part of the STOP squad can also apply online.

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