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Halting the Epidemic of Veteran Suicides

Tim-WolfAs the video opens, we see a handwritten note. In reverse action, bullet-shattered household items, including a teddy bear, dishes, and a glass case of medals, recompose themselves into their undamaged forms. A loved one unfolds a paper and begins to read a note from a veteran. But in “The Other Note,” a public service announcement directed by award-winning director Scott McCullough, the note isn’t the one you might expect: It’s a note of gratitude, a thank-you note for saving a life by preventing suicide.

In the closing moments of the video, Martin Sheen faces the camera and says, “The worst part of war should not be coming home.” It’s a sentiment that few would dispute. Yet, as Tim Wolf, a Foundation Source client who helped finance the announcement discovered, suicides by Veterans of America’s armed forces have reached epidemic proportions. And although Americans “support our troops” on bumper stickers and t-shirts, that sentiment isn’t translating into tangible action.

“Long story short, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.” Wolf says, rattling off the alarming statistics. “Of the approximately 41,000 suicides a year, 8,000 are Vets. And a disproportionate number of them are women. Female Veterans are 6.5 times more likely to commit suicide than their civilian counterparts; men are 2.5 times more likely. Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration is a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and there’s no one in the president’s office or subcabinet who wakes up every day and says, ‘We need to reduce Veteran suicide. Let’s get on it!’”

Initially, Wolf decided to help finance “The Other Note” through The Wolf Family Foundation because it promotes the work of The National Veterans Foundation, an organization with the first nationwide Vet-to-Vet hotline for suicide prevention. He also thought it would make a fitting tribute to his uncle, a World War II Vet who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving his crew over Japan. Soon, however, Wolf learned that he had a personal connection to the suffering behind the suicide statistics. “I was talking to a friend. Her daughter’s fiancé was a Marine who had done two tours. He killed himself one Easter Sunday. When I heard that, that’s when this stuff got real.”

“This terrible epidemic, her daughter’s experience, and my desire to honor my uncle converged in a wonderful way,” Wolf recalls. “We decided to make this video. Our plan was that she would raise money, I would raise money, and what we couldn’t raise, I’d fund.” Despite the first-rate production values, the PSA was a bargain by Hollywood standards because they were able to make it very quickly and efficiently. (“We still had to rent the soundstage in Culver City, hire the grips, prop people, and everything else that goes into shooting a commercial,” Wolf explains.)

“The success of this PSA is really a testament to the speed and mobility of a private foundation,” Wolf says. “We had a tight budget and people committed for tight windows of time. Martin Sheen, who is a lovely, gracious man, was only available for a brief period of time. Because private foundations are nimble, and I’m the only bureaucracy in my foundation, I felt like I could be instrumental in making it happen and happen fast. If we were working through a large charity, it would have taken weeks of writing grants and meetings with approval boards. We had a brief window of opportunity to make this happen, and if we had gone that route, the window of opportunity would have closed.”

Wolf also credits Foundation Source for its help behind the scenes. “They enabled me to pay production costs out of my foundation, moving the money and making sure that everyone got paid,” Wolf says. “I’m sure that if I had a donor-advised fund instead of a private foundation, there would have been wires, forms, and problems, but with Foundation Source, I was able to send the pitch package for ‘The Other Note,’ and it just happened! I can’t say enough about the dexterity and speed of Foundation Source. They were great!”

Although Wolf is justifiably proud of “The Other Note,” he’s hoping other funders will join the effort to end the epidemic of Veteran suicides. “I want other private foundations to promote awareness of this issue, engage in research on suicide prevention, and help us get Veterans the support they need. Of course I would love it if this PSA went viral, but although awareness is nice, it’s useless unless it translates into action.”

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