VA Nurse Advocates for Veterans Outside of Hospital Setting

After I graduated from Montana State University in 2016, I took a nursing position at a small, rural hospital in Moab, Utah — but then the pandemic hit. Like many people, I wanted to find more ways to help.

I accepted a position in the emergency room at a VA hospital more than an hour from my house. The drive is far, but it’s been an honor to serve our nation’s veterans, and it has given me a first-hand look at the struggles these men and women face every day.

One of the major health issues plaguing our veterans is suicidal ideation — a daily occurrence at the VA. Misdiagnosis and underreporting mean that it’s unclear exactly what percentage of veterans suffer from PTSD, TBI or depression (known leading risk factors for veteran suicide), but it is estimated that up to a third of all veterans suffer from at least one of these conditions — some from all three. In 2019, the suicide rate of veterans was 52.3% higher than the non-veteran population. Looking at these statistics, combined with my own experience working in the VA Healthcare Systems, it’s clear to me that we need to do more for our veterans as they adjust to life back home.

As a nurse in emergency medicine, I have spent years studying traumatic brain injuries. If I could impress one fact on the general public it’s that we know so little about TBI, how it affects individuals or how we can treat those who sustain one. There is currently no cure currently for this condition and treatment plans right now only address symptoms. The greatest hope we have right now is to support qualitative, meaningful research, and Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB) is doing just that.

Through meeting 22 Jumps founder Tristan Wimmer, I became aware of and excited about the work of CVB. This innovative nonprofit is working to find unique angles and breakthroughs in medical research — the only approach, I believe, that can address the root causes of the mental health problems plaguing our veterans.

Tristan and my husband served together in the Marines and have since stayed friends. We’ve both been impressed, watching from a distance, as he grew 22 Jumps and the support community around its cause. When I started BASE jumping, I never imagined I would eventually have an opportunity to use my passion for the sport to support our veterans. As a nurse, it’s my job to advocate for veterans every day, but to advocate outside the hospital setting, within a platform where so many veterans have already found a helpful community, is a privilege.

It is an honor to fundraise and jump for 22 Jumps at the Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls, Idaho this Memorial Day weekend, and I look forward to the challenge.

Picture of Brittany Cantwell

Brittany Cantwell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

For Kiernan and others like him

Get email updates directly from our team on upcoming events and our progress in reducing veteran and first responder suicide.