Look out for neighbors during holiday season

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Keweenaw County Board member Del Rajala (left) appealed to the public for neighbors to look out for one another during the holiday season, particularly military veterans. To the right of Rajala are Jim Vivian Jr., Chairman Don Piche, Robert Demarois and Sandra Gayk.

EAGLE RIVER –Keweenaw County Board member Del Rajala discussed veterans, holidays and suicide, issuing a plea for the holiday season: keep an eye on neighbors.

Rajala, who is on the Veteran Affairs Committee for Keweenaw County, said that the holiday season was the appropriate time to make a comment.

Statistics state that military veterans across the United States are committing suicide at the rate of nearly 22 per day. That statistic often increases during the holidays, Rajala said.

“This time of year, also there is a lot of depression, among anyone,” he said, “including veterans.”

Rajala said what he wants to make clear is that a sign of distress can be slight and brief, with veterans and other people.

To emphasize his point, Rajala shared a recent experience that began on a social media group called United States Air Force Retired.

“A gentleman in South Carolina made a post reaching out, asking for help, saying that he wanted to ‘off himself,'” Rajala said. Because the group’s site is in Facebook, the post was deleted almost as soon as it was posted.

But before it was removed, Rajala took a screenshot of the post and decided to make some phone calls.

“I looked at that gentleman’s profile, found out that there was no local law enforcement in his hometown,” Rajala said. “I contacted the Sheriff’s Office in that area, and in fact, proof positive, he was in distress. His wife was out of town. They got him to the hospital. Later on that evening, I got a message from his wife, using his Facebook account, thanking me. That’s an amazing story.”

Rajala issued a plea, if not a challenge, to the public in finishing his discussion.

“So, this holiday season,” Rajala said, “and throughout the season, and appropriately right now, for the veterans, 22 a day, on top of the other social problems that we have in this nation, look to your neighbor. Don’t be afraid to ask.”