Project Diehard: On a mission in the service of veterans | New


As a former Army medic who has served four times, Paducah’s Brian Gibson works best when given a mission. After his good friend and comrade in the military took his own life, God, Gibson said, gave him one more: to protect and serve veterans on the home front.

Gibson, a retired first-class sergeant and suicide attempt survivor, is the founder of Project Diehard, a faith-based, scriptural, 501 (c) (3) nonprofit. Its mission is to raise awareness of veteran suicide and help veterans cope with the stress and hardships of making the transition from active military service to civilian life.

Gibson has dedicated his life to this cause. He said he wasn’t looking to get rich on this mission or rip off veterans, but was a man driven by his faith to do what he needed to do to help his siblings in the armed forces.

“I’m just a sinner saved by grace trying to do the work of God,” Gibson said.

According to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 97 Kentucky veterans died by suicide in 2019, the latest year for which veteran suicide data is available. These deaths accounted for 13% of suicide deaths in the state in 2019, which matches national suicide statistics. Nationally, veterans make up about 8% of the general adult population.

Gibson said that every day, on average, 22 veterans kill themselves in the United States. 2019 data from the VA puts that number at about 17 deaths per day, or about one veteran every 90 minutes. Gibson has said that one veteran who died by suicide is one too many.

The VA’s annual report shows suicide deaths of non-veteran adults increased 33% from 2001 to 2019, while suicide deaths of veterans rose 35.9% over the same period . However, the report points out that during the same period, there was a 26.2% increase in the adult population in the United States, but a 23.1% decrease in the veteran population.

Gibson added that from May 2019 to May 2020, 67 veterans who lived within a 100-mile radius of Paducah died by suicide. In recent months, Gibson has said there have been more veteran suicide deaths across the country after the U.S. armed forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August.

Several factors explain why veterans are more likely to contemplate death by suicide. Veterans are used to having a routine and taking orders, Gibson said, and it can be difficult and overwhelming for some veterans to go from decisions made for them in the military to then having to make hundreds of choices and decisions. for themselves each. daytime. Gibson also said it can be difficult for civilians to really understand what veterans who toured saw during the war, and some veterans find it difficult to talk about their combat experiences. As a result, Gibson said, many veterans find it difficult to isolate themselves.

Project Diehard’s long-term goal is to establish facilities where veterans and their families can go and live for up to a year. Over the course of the year, or as long as the Veteran wishes to stay for less than a year, these Veterans could focus on improving their physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Tips, Bibles and just about anything that veterans believe will help them in times of need will be offered. Gibson said no veteran who stays at a Project Diehard facility will ever be charged money for asking for help.

Bibles are made available at the entrance to Forward Operating Base Rush in Makanda, Illinois. Brian Gibson, founder of Project Diehard, said the organization is faith-based and scriptural.

“It doesn’t matter if a veteran needs a place to talk, a room, for maybe a week, a month, up to a year, we’ll be there to help. Whether it’s a cup of coffee, a hot meal, a shower, being able to do their laundry, we’ll be there, ”Gibson said.

Gibson initially planned for the first of these facilities to be in Kentucky. After being featured by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), VUE Magazine, and WSIL News 3 in 2020, Project Diehard received a free, goal-changing giveaway: 20 acres of land and a 10,000 square foot facility in Makanda , Illinois, near Carbondale which once housed a Christian daycare center.

When the Illinois facility is finished renovating, Gibson said it will house 12 single veterans and two veterans with their families. There will also be a kitchen, laundry room, day room, play area for all children living in the facility, and space for veterans to meet privately with counselors. The property will also house a classroom, a fishing pond and a chapel for the worship of people of all faiths. Project Diehard is working with Cassidy’s Cause, a nonprofit therapeutic riding association in Paducah, to bring four horses to the facility. Project Diehard will build a stable and provide pasture for veterans to work with horses and practice equine therapy.

This facility, named Forward Operating Base (FOB) Rush, is named after the Master Sgt. Courtney Rush. Rush joined the Air Force in 2003 and flew two missions in the Middle East. In January 2012, just seven months after returning from deployment, Rush committed suicide.

Project Diehard already has people who provide services to the organization: Jeff Canter, of PFGW Architects, has agreed to be the official architect of FOB Rush and to help understand the logistics of building and renovating the buildings. facilities. Buzz Vontesmar draws his experience from establishing a vocational training program for inmates and is ready to teach skilled trades to FOB Rush veterans to help them find employment after leaving the base.

“We know the mission is over our fees at this point. We do what we can to get [Project Diehard] up and running, ”Canter said.

It is difficult for Gibson to establish a timeline for when the facility will be operational. He is, however, able to say when it should be operational: “Yesterday.

“The problem is not going away. It’s getting worse and worse, ”Gibson said.

For Gibson and for Project Diehard, every day without a facility to help relieve some of the stresses and triggers in veteran lives is another day 22 of his siblings lose “the fight against the demons.” In fact, Gibson said there is already a waiting list of veterans who need the services of Project Diehard and want to stay at FOB Rush. He said he got several calls each week from veterans who wanted to know if FOB Rush was ready already.

Faith is an important part of Project Diehard, so much so that Gibson has said he has turned down potential large donations with conditions for removing the free Bibles offered by Project Diehard to veterans of the facility.

Diehard Project: On a mission in the service of veterans photo 3

Construction plans for Forward Operating Base Rush are on display at the Makanda, Illinois site. It shows proposed plans for bedrooms for 12 single veterans and two veterans with families.

Another thing that sets Project Diehard apart from some other nonprofits is the compensation structure – or more specifically, the lack of a compensation structure – for the Project Diehard board of directors. Gibson, as founder and president of Project Diehard, has a total annual salary of zero dollars from Project Diehard. The board, and whoever becomes president after Gibson, doesn’t make any money either.

He believes that the money people donate should be used to help veterans. Project Diehard’s goal is for 90% of donations and funds to go directly to its mission, with the remaining 10% helping pay staff to work in these facilities and help pay utility bills and maintain the facilities. working.

Gibson wants those interested in the organization to know that he takes transparency seriously: his accountant at CYB Accounting in Paducah has been ordered by Gibson to release Project Diehard’s financial records to anyone who requests them. . CYB Accounting confirmed this to the Sun.

The FOB Rush facility will be revamped and refurbished to ADA compliant throughout the building in case Project Diehard needs to serve veterans with a physical disability. To do this, however, Gibson said the organization needed help.

Gibson estimates the cost of renovating FOB Rush and commissioning the facility at over $ 600,000. The estimated monthly cost of operating FOB Rush when housing Veterans is between $ 30,000 and $ 60,000 to cover resident needs, such as the provision of food, utilities, programs and personnel. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Gibson said there are several ways people can help Project Diehard. Although Project Diehard requests private grants, these funds are not guaranteed. Gibson said donations of any amount would be appreciated. He also encourages those who wish to donate to become a patron and donate $ 22 per month, in honor of the number of veterans estimated by Project Diehard who commit suicide each day, to help cover the costs. Businesses and corporations can also become patrons. Project Diehard is also looking for volunteers. Gibson said he would take volunteers who can offer any skill and have the time to donate to the organization. Project Diehard is also open to volunteers who would be willing to teach veterans a skill or trade that would either be therapeutic for veterans or help them find work in the civilian world.

Project Diehard also partners with other veterans groups and organizations and can connect veterans in need with these organizations. More information about Project Diehard is available at

The National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline is available for Veterans or their loved ones to speak with a crisis responder 24/7. If you are a Veteran, Military, or National Guard in Crisis, call 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 to speak to a trained responder, or text 838255. More information is available at

If you are a civilian in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “TALK” to 741741.


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