The purpose of the Proffitt Brothers Foundation®, the charitable arm of Spartan Medical, is to “make things that should matter, matter.” In that spirit, we have dedicated the month of September to supercharging your impact by matching donations, dollar for dollar, to benefit the Ruyts Foundation.
This incredible foundation is on the frontlines of managing the mental health crisis of our nation’s heroes, our military veterans. With an average of 22 veteran deaths by suicide every day in the United States, the importance of the Ruyts Foundation cannot be overstated.
In this Q&A with the founder of the Ruyts Foundation, we discuss its history, why it’s important to bring awareness to veteran suicide, and what they hope to achieve through fundraising.
What is the mission of the Ruyts Foundation?
Helping our heroes fight the battles they can no longer fight alone.
Can you tell us about the background of the Ruyts Foundation and what motivated you to create it?
Although there were veteran suicide prevention programs around Virginia, there was nothing that was dedicated solely to this important cause. And we knew that we had to bridge the gap somewhere in order to be able to save our heroes from dying a very preventable death.
Why is it particularly important to bring awareness to veteran suicide?
It’s important because our heroes have fought for us, and it’s nonsense to have them come home after fighting to keep us safe and have absolutely nothing to help them. They shouldn’t suffer in silence. When it comes to veterans and active-duty personnel, it’s a different aspect of the mental health crisis compared to civilians. They haven’t seen the same things; they haven’t been through the same things. Being veteran-focused is important.
What barriers do veterans traditionally face when seeking mental healthcare, and how does the Ruyts Foundation aim to make that process easier?
They face long waits for appointment times. They face doctors that just want to prescribe medication and send them on their way. And while medication can help at the start, it’s not always the answer. A veteran might completely avoid a doctor just to avoid having to take some of these medications, because they don’t want to be numb to the world — they just want help in their battles. So, we offer mental health appointments with our own Licensed Clinical Social Worker that works with our veterans in private so that they can continue to progress, rather than just getting a prescription and being sent on their way.
What are some of the other resources that your foundation provides to veterans?
We offer mental health appointment coverage, which are grants to cover all appointments. We also cover any medication that stems from those appointments if the veteran chooses to go that route. We cover homelessness prevention, because when a veteran becomes homeless, most of the time they become hopeless. We want to try to bridge the homelessness aspect to help keep their minds in whatever they’re going through.
We also offer holiday assistance to our soldiers and their families. A lot of people assume that the holidays are the most stressful time for a veteran, however, the most stressful time of year is spring because everything is brightening back up and a lot of them start to feel hopeless. So, we strive to hold more events in the spring to help them get out of the house so they can socialize and be happy.
Can you talk about a time that an individual was helped by the Ruyts Foundation?
One of the most recent individuals that we’re still working with — we made a really strong connection with and actually feel like we adopted - is our foundation “Grandpop.” He was facing homelessness because the house that he was living in was not suitable for him, and he has a long list of medical problems. Whenever his caregivers would reach out to the VA, it was just this “hurry up and stand still” game. They went to the VA in Richmond who referred him to the VA in Fredericksburg. Well, the VA has still not reached back out to him or to us.
We have a case manager that works directly with him and the VA, and our case manager can’t even get a response. So, we took him in and were able to get him a room in a hotel for a month and a half while his niece was able to look for housing for him. And now each month that he is in that house, we pay a portion to help ease the burden on him because he doesn’t get VA benefits. He’s a “Vietnam-era veteran”, which means he didn’t serve in the Vietnam war, he aided it. So, it doesn’t seem like they want to help him with many resources.
How will the funds raised be used by Ruyts Foundation to help prevent veteran suicides?
The bulk of what we’re working on right now is being able to open up more chapters in other states so that we can broaden our reach. We started in Virginia because it has the highest veteran population, but now we want to stretch out to other states that have a big military and veteran presence and start working there and eventually go national.
We’re also making headway on our crisis line: veterans that don’t want to call the VA directly are able to call our crisis line and we can get them one-on-one assistance with a licensed clinical social worker or psychiatrist no matter where they are in the U.S. and whatever they need at that very moment.
We’re also working on being able to provide transportation to get them from wherever they are having their crisis to our nearest facility. We’re also working on trying to fund more of our homelessness side, and we partnered with Vets on Track, who furnish the apartments or houses that we’ve found for a veteran.
As a person who is open about your own battle with suicidal feelings, what message do you hope to convey to someone who might be struggling today?
It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to not be okay.
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