Figawi Boat "Defender" Returns, Building Momentum To Save Veterans' Lives

Waverly Brannigan •

IMG 1620 2023 05 28 210440 djpo e3a40f7172c3e2402cbe8afa5c931de5

The boat Defender will return to race in Figawi this year, manned by veterans and their spouses to raise awareness for preventing veteran suicide and the non-profit America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP). Jim Lorraine, a military veteran and president and CEO of AWP, was first introduced to Figawi six years ago, and the event quickly became much more than a race for veterans and their families who are supported by the non-profit. 

“We use it as a way to raise visibility of what we're trying to do, as America’s Warrior Partnership, and to recognize, especially around Memorial Day, the sacrifice of those who have died,” explained Lorraine. 

Jim Lorraine

Since last year’s race, Lorraine has noted an increase in recognition of veteran suicide in the greater Massachusetts and Boston area. The outside support that the non-profit has received allowed AWP to begin assessing each veteran who comes into the program. Last year alone, over 8,000 veterans came to AWP for support and it was found that 15 percent of them screened positive for suicidal thoughts in the past 30 days. AWP then offers support including mental health resources, housing, and emergency financial assistance.

“That's what's unique about [AWP],” says Lorraine. “We not only identify those who are at risk, but we can help solve the problem that they’re facing. And we stay with them.” 

By staying with those veterans who seek support, AWP has been able to foster a community in which people stay in touch, expanding nationwide from the Boston area and helping dissipate suicidal ideations. It creates what Lorraine called “a good track record.” Not only do people reach out to AWP when seeking help, but many also reach out because they want to volunteer and aid in the fight against veteran suicide.

“Our roots are in service. So we serve veterans and we connect them to partners throughout the country, both local and national,” Lorraine says. 

Not only is community essential for veterans involved with AWP, but also for the research that the organization does. AWP led the first-ever suicide study that matches military service to death records as part of Operation Deep Dive in partnership with Duke University’s School of Medicine. Massachusetts is one of the states that shares data with AWP, and Lorraine notes that the highest cause of veteran suicide in the state is overdoses, and the overall veteran suicide rate is greater than in other states that are studied. That makes raising awareness in Massachusetts all the more essential, he said. 

IMG 2260 e3a40f7172c3e2402cbe8afa5c931de5

The importance of studies such as this allow communities to develop premature death strategies for veterans that are specific to the data and trends in a specific area, highlighting a “one size fits one” approach. By evaluating the conditions veterans are living in around the country, Operation Deep Dive will allow AWP to tailor solutions for veterans depending on local and individual circumstances.

Ultimately, Lorraine says “I believe the key is that the veterans need to know who has their back and to know there are resources available to them that they have access to.”

Defender, also sponsored by the veteran-owned Boston company The Westport Group, returns to Figawi not only to raise awareness for AWP’s cause, but also to provide veterans with a space where they can spend the time on the boat reflecting and sharing their stories with other veterans, especially during Memorial Day Weekend as the country remembers all those who have been lost while serving in the U.S. military.

In the coming years, Lorraine hopes to see AWP and veteran participation in Figawi grow. AWP is currently reaching out to veteran-focused sailing programs, with the hope of bringing more veterans to come and crew the boats during Figawi.

“I think the camaraderie, I think the connection to other veterans, I think that positive relationships with those around you is a great treatment for veterans and it should come naturally,” Lorraine emphasizes. You can donate to AWP’s cause by clicking here.

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News