MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — There were 23 veteran deaths by suicide in North Dakota in 2020, which was significantly higher than the national general population suicide rate, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This is where the organization Together with Veterans comes in.

Together with Veterans is a community-based suicide prevention program for rural Veterans.

And the only chapter in North Dakota is located in Minot. It was established in August 2021.

“We’re hoping to impact the mental wellness of the veterans in our area,” said Randy McDonald, the executive director of Together with Veterans – Minot.

The chapter is also the first organization in the nation to participate in the Copilot program.

Copilot allows veterans, active duty service members, and their family members to anonymously text for mental wellness support.

“So three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and you get to choose the time. You’ll receive positive mental health messaging in the form of a podcast, or a quote, or a meme, or activities you can do to gauge your mental wellness,” said McDonald.

Speaking about mental health is often considered a taboo topic for many, especially those who are serving or have served in the military.

“The stigma with that is people would avoid going to see the doc so they can just keep doing the job. And then what happens is there’s a spiral of, the negative spiral, by the time that they get to help, sometimes it’s too late. Or hey, the only option for me now is, unfortunately, taking myself out of the equation,” said Max Pontenila, the vice president for the board of directors for Together with Veterans – Minot.

The organization fundraised for the Copilot program at a Minot Minotauros game earlier this month.

And with the money raised, the organization has the ability to pay for 1,000 veterans a month to use the Copilot service.

“The intent here is again to provide the service members with a resource where if they need it, it’s there. They can talk to someone. I would, I built bombs for 20 years in the military. I can tell you that I would much rather have somebody who needed mental health services and was receiving them, than somebody who needed them and was afraid to get them,” said McDonald.

People can access the Copilot number by scanning the QR code on the image below or by texting the word, ‘copilot’ to 78573.

McDonald says the goal is to help 12,000 veterans over the next year.

The Copilot program is completely free to use, but it does cost about $10 per person for the organization.

If you would like to help fund the Copilot Program, you can mail a check addressed to “TWV Minot” to 1930 S Broadway Suite 106 Minot, ND, 58701.