It’s an unwritten rule – nobody interrupts a group therapy session, Steven Bates said. And yet, there came a knock at the door to announce the Veterans Administration scheduler’s entrance: “’I’m here to talk to you about Steve,’” Bates recalled. What came next changed things for the military veteran and how he determined to help veterans and others deal with PTSD, depression and suicide.
Bates spoke with John C. Rose and guest host Phyllis Maynard Thursday on Town Talk about his non-profit PoemSpeak and his efforts to offer hope to those experiencing the debilitating effects of PTSD, depression and other mental and physical health challenges. And those who may have suicidal thoughts, as it turns out, a result of his encounter with that VA scheduler, he said.
It was five or six years ago, Bates recalled, that he asked this person to read over a few poems he had written for an upcoming suicide prevention and awareness program. “He read them over, and said ‘they’re fine, can I take them home?’” Bates recalled. It was a couple of months later when that unwritten rule was broken and the scheduler interrupted the therapy session.
Unbeknownst to Bates at the time he gave him the poems, that man had decided to end his life. That very night.
“I had a gun in one hand and the poems in the other hand,” Bates said, recalling the man’s conversation. At some point, however, he put the gun down and just kept reading the poems over and over.
“I went home that night with a completely new perspective on my poetry,” Bates said. He was in the process of writing a book of poems, but he said that encounter with the suicidal VA scheduler helped him decide to start a non-profit – for no other reason than to help people.
Reflections of a Beret is the first book of poetry Bates published. He’s working on a fifth book now. There’s a poem in his first collection called “Five Senses of a Veteran.” When the fifth book is published, Bates said the poem title will be updated to “Five Senses of a Veteran or First Responder.”
Like many military veterans, first responders also experience the pressures of service that can manifest in ways like depression, PTSD and thoughts of suicide. Those who work in law enforcement as well as EMTs, firefighters, doctors and nurses all have a lot of pressure on them now, Bates said.
“I’ve worn a badge basically all of my life, since I was 18 years old,” he said. “You name it, I’ve probably worn that badge.” There are many pressures on law enforcement officers right now, he said, “and a lot of them, unfortunately, are finding the pressures of their job too demanding.”
He said he hopes that his poems resonate with readers who may be feeling similar emotions. “I’m honest – I don’t hold back,” Bates said. “If I can feel it, I put it on paper – I don’t tiptoe around a subject.”
He wants others to know that somewhere, somehow, they have made a difference. Remembering that VA scheduler who first read the poems he had written about suicide, Bates said: “There was that one time that a life was changed, and that’s why I do what I do.”
Listen to the complete interview just below.
Visit www.poemspeak.org to learn more about the project, the poet and ways to help.
Donations may be made online or sent to:
1260 US Hwy 72 E
Athens, AL 35611
For complete details and audio click play.