Upon returning home from military deployment, transitioning back to civilian life can be in a word: grueling. Though veterans are entitled to benefits through the Department of Veteran Affairs (such as assistance for education, housing and medical), treatment can be harder to detect for challenges such as PTSD and emotional trauma.
These challenges, along with other real life problems such as family/relationship issues, substance abuse and sexual identity, may cause one to contemplate suicide. Compared to the rest of the population, veteran suicide occurs at an alarmingly higher rate (41% higher for veteran and 61% higher for non-deployed veterans). This Veterans’ Day, November 11th, 2016, TANO would like to recognize a veteran and his organization’s commitment to merging media and therapeutic tactics to make a critical impact for this veteran population.
We are honored to have our Member Spotlight with Mr. Glenn Towery, founder and chairmen of the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel.
TANO: What prompted you to create this nonprofit organization?
GLENN TOWERY: In order to answer that question I must take you back to when the idea came to me. Something unique had to be done in order to help stop veteran suicides in America.
I moved from Los Angeles to Round Rock in October of 2013. I was retired and thought that I would just relax in Round Rock and travel with my wife, Juanita. Shortly after relocating, I was watching television and heard a news report that was stunning. The news reported that veterans were killing themselves at the rate of 22 a day. When I calculated that number, it came to 8,030 veterans taking their lives every year. I was shocked. I thought about people I had served with and the veteran men and women that I had met since becoming a civilian. I didn’t think there was anything that I could do to help at that moment. I felt helpless.
I get up early much of the time, sometimes as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. Many of my best ideas come to me early in the morning. On one such morning, it was as though a light had come on in my head. I decided I would take my camera and go to the VA and interview veterans and ask them the same question, “If a veteran came to you and told you that they intended to commit suicide, what would you say to them to talk them out of it?” I filmed about 14 interviews over the course of several weeks and then posted them on Youtube. I named the Youtube channel the “Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel” because I wanted it to be easily found by any veteran that was contemplating suicide in the hope that someone on those videos might say something that would talk a veteran out of committing suicide. Almost a year later, we broke out of the box of being a Youtube channel and I started the formation of the internet channel as it is today.
TANO: What in your background makes you uniquely qualified to create the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel?
GLENN TOWERY: It may seem odd, but my qualifications stemmed from being in show business almost all of my life. The first film that I saw that made me want to get into the business was “Westside Story.” You have to understand the context under which I saw this movie. I was a kid living in South Central Los Angeles in the 1960s. It was a rough neighborhood. None of the gangs where I lived ever had a fight where they sang songs and danced in unison before they went out to rumble. The film blew my mind and I was hooked. I began going to acting school as a kid.
I joined the NAVY in 1970, leaving that creative world behind. I went to Vietnam and was injured after serving only 18 months of a 4-year enlistment term. I was medically evacuated to Oakland navy hospital and discharged from the navy a few months later. It was during this time that I found and fell in love with theater. I was fortunate to be able to work with some of the greats of the theater, actors, directors, and stage managers in Los Angeles.
When I was discharged in 1970 there was no such thing as PTSD – I just had problems and I didn’t know what they were. It was just called shell shock and battle fatigue. I had many problems adjusting back into civilian life, but it would be many years before I would be diagnosed with PTSD. It was the arts that allowed me to survive, I am certain of that. After experiencing some devastating problems, I decided to go to film school. That was how I rebuilt myself and my life. I earned a Bachelor’s degree at the prestigious Columbia College Hollywood and graduated Magna Cum Laude, Valedictorian in 1997. Film was my major, but I minored in television production. Since that time, I have won several awards as an independent filmmaker.
TANO: What makes the Veteran Suicide Prevention Channel unique?
GLENN TOWERY: Many of the veterans that our channel is created to serve will not seek treatment at the VA, and many of their family members are at a loss in finding answers as to what is happening to their veteran family member, and how to get them support and help. The VSPChannel is the only veterans broadcast channel of its kind in the United States that can reach veterans in the comfort of their homes. It is the most unique and innovative company to address the issues of veteran suicides by providing an outlet for veterans and military personnel who are suffering with PTSD, anxiety and depression.
I asked myself, what does a veteran do who wakes up at 3a.m. in the morning with thoughts of suicide? Who does he talk to? What can be done to help them? Sometimes something as simple as an inspirational message at that critical moment when a veteran is thinking about committing suicide could make all the difference in the world to a veteran in trouble. The VSPChannel is full of inspirational messages to veterans. We also have shows and are creating shows that allow veterans to participate in Mindfulness meditations, Yoga and Tai Chi, right in the comfort of their own homes. So I would say that the most innovative and unique aspect of our channel is the ability to reach veterans with an inspiring positive message, information and referral services, and therapeutic programs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the privacy of their own homes.
TANO: Are there any particular topics discussed on this channel?
GLENN TOWERY: The VSPChannel will present all pertinent discussions that are beneficial and relevant to veterans and their immediate family members. The channel will particularly deal with matters that are important to veterans’ health and well-being. The VSPChannel will also concentrate our efforts on getting important information to veterans as it regards new treatments and how to more easily navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs system that can be difficult to understand at times.
TANO: What has the VSPChannel accomplished to date?
GLENN TOWERY: Many of the people who started with us many months ago have since moved on of their own volition. Most often, it was because our organization did not have the money to pay them and as we all know it takes money to survive. So people came and left but everyone who came left something tangible for the VSPChannel to build on. If not for these people, we would not be in the position we are in today. On January 16, 2015, the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel became an official nonprofit organization and a month after that we acquired our own 501 (c) (3) status.
We have a new group of professional people who are our Board of Directors. They include Wilbert Forbes, a former deputy Director of the State of Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, (retired), Dr. Charles Edwards, Brigadier General (retired) and our organization’s Chaplain, Gary Ray Bugnacki, Founder of the AMERICAN HEROES NETWORK national radio program, Michael White, Operations Manager, Derrick Randy Jones, former Sergeant Major of the US ARMY and successful contractor for the DOD and, finally, but certainly not least, my wife, Juanita Cole Towery, who anchors our organization as its Secretary of record.
We also have letters of support from the major veterans’ service organizations who recognize the importance of what we are trying to accomplish with the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel. They are from national and state organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, American Legion, and the Texas Veterans Commission under the direction of its Commissioner, Thomas Palladino.
The VSPChannel is now an internet channel which has its own website. We have achieved 24 hours of content on our channel and we broadcast that content 7 days a week. We have shot and produced our own pilot shows listed below:
- COOKING WITH CHEF DAD – 2 pilot episode and a short interview show,
- TAI CHI WITH SIFU DAVE PICKENS – 1 show and a short interview.
- VETERANS LUSTER SHOW – 1 pilot episode
- VETERANS EXUDE TALENT SHOW – 2 pilot episodes
- MINDFULNESS WITH DR. ELIJAH GOLDSTEIN SHOW – 2 pilots
- VETERANS INTERVIEWS
- PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
- VSPChannel NEWS SHOWS
The VSPChannel will be a long lasting legacy to veterans everywhere and a promise from America’s citizens that they will never abandon those who placed their lives on the line for them and this country.
TANO: Where do you see the Veteran Suicide Prevention Channel 5 years/10 years from now?
GLENN TOWERY: Currently, we are an internet channel. However, our main goal is to become a national television broadcast channel. We will never give up our internet presence. We will continue to develop it and grow. We hope to engage many other veterans service organizations and, through them and our own efforts, provide services through that internet conduit.
In 5 years our goal is to have built a 25,000-35,000 square foot production/broadcast facility right here in central Texas and to create and broadcast televised healing programming for veterans and their family members 24-7.
TANO: What lessons have you learned while creating the Veterans Suicide Prevention Channel?
GLENN TOWERY: One of the big lessons that I have learned is that there are no simple answers to the problems facing America’s veterans today. However, having a channel that focuses on the problems facing veterans and their family members will increase our chances, exponentially, in finding a way to heal our veterans. I have also discovered that it takes more than dedication of the people that are working to build this channel. It takes money to pay people. Building a channel is not something that you can tackle as a hobby. It is a full time job to build it and a full time job to keep it running once it has been built. Veterans deserve a channel of their own in America.
We have channels for our pets, yet none for our vets. This is a problem that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. There is a lot of good will for this channel. Almost everyone recognizes the need for veterans to have this channel. We need the facility, professionals to run it, and the funds to pay them. With that combination we can make it happen.
TANO: Are there any misconceptions about veteran suicide?
GLENN TOWERY: Veteran suicide is still a mystery in many regards. One thing that we have determined is that PTSD, anxiety, depression and paranoia play a constant role in veterans committing suicide. It is not that veterans don’t care about life, or their families anymore, it’s that veterans feel that they have been abandoned once they get home and that there is no one who understands what they are feeling. That loneliness and feeling of abandonment, in my opinion, leads to veteran suicides. By creating this channel, veterans can feel like someone out there cares about them all of the time.
TANO: How did you find people to help you get the VSPChannel up and running and produce the shows that you have already produced for the channel?
GLENN TOWERY: Initially, it was not that difficult to find the people needed to start the VSPChannel. Good ideas are easily recognized by others who hear them. So in late November of 2014, I dropped an ad on Craigslist saying that I was looking for people to help start a national broadcast channel for veterans. In a week, I had a meeting at my home and nearly 20 people showed up. These people were from every walk of life that included men and women, veterans and civilians. I organized the group as best as I could and placed an early emphasis on production because I knew that we needed shows for people to see what we were trying to accomplish. You can talk a film or a show until you are blue in the face and never move anyone. However, people respond when they see a real show. I took our group and created 6 pilot shows: a Tai Chi Show, a Cooking Show, a Veterans Service organization show, a therapeutic show, an entertainment show and a news show. I gave us a goal of creating, shooting, and producing these shows within a 6-week period of time. I remember people thinking that I had lost my mind. We went to work and after 6 weeks we had completed all of the shows in one form or another.
TANO: How can we learn more about your organization?
GLENN TOWERY: Visit our channel to learn more about the channel. VSP Channel will also host a Pool Tournament for Veterans Day at Fast Eddies’ Billiard in Round Rock, TX. This event will raise awareness of veteran and military suicide in the Central Texas area. Click Here for details
Mr. Glenn Towery also received a National Gold Medalist for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in 2014, sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some of Mr. Towery artwork can be found here.
TANO honors the service and commitment to the individuals and organizations that work with Veterans and their families. If your organization is part of this group, please email members@TANO.org with the subject VETERAN to receive a TANO membership at a 20% discount
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