Citizen Spotlight: Kelly Frey, Buddy Check 22

Kelly Frey, president of local veteran organization Buddy Check 22, sits for a portrait outside Riverside Medical Center where she serves as the critical care nurse manager. Frey also served in the Army as an engineer from March 1999 to March 2007. Buddy Check 22 promotes awareness for veteran suicide by encouraging check-ins with veterans on the 22nd of each month. READ MORE

When returning home from the military, veterans often have difficulty reacclimating to their communities. This, coupled with physical, mental and emotional damages endured while serving, can create a road of hardship.

On average, 22 veterans take their lives daily. That’s about one veteran every 66 minutes.

This inspired combat veteran Kelly Frey to take action.

“I felt that I needed to do a whole lot more for my fellow brothers and sisters,” she said.

Frey, of Martinton, is the critical care nurse manager at Riverside and was the first Riverside employee to be deployed to Iraq for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She served in the Army as an engineer from March 1999 to March 2007.

After seeing the social media sensation of Buddy Check — which helps provide resources to veterans as they re-enter society — Frey took action to localize the effort and started Buddy Check 22 which promotes awareness for veteran suicide by encouraging check-ins with veterans on the 22nd of each month.

“Buddy Check is a military term that means you check on your fellow soldier,” she said. “That is common language no matter what branch you are.”

When talking about the history of Buddy Check 22, Frey reflected on a veteran she knew named Drew who was suffering physically, emotionally and mentally.

“Despite using and going through all of the proper channels to get him help, the system failed him,” she said.

Frey recalled a winter Sunday seven years ago in the car with her husband, Dan, and their triplet sons, now age 12. On that ride, she was thinking about Drew.

“I told Dan, ‘I cannot accept this as being a reality. This is not our reality, and I want to do something more.’”

Dan, a fellow Army veteran who recently retired after 23 years of service, was there to support Kelly — and that’s how Buddy Check 22 was born.

A support system

Frey explained that the charity grew from there, and they began organizing events, such as a golf outings with friend Don Ball.

“It’s been six successful years raising awareness of veteran suicide,” said Frey, sharing that they have monthly PSAs going out on eight radio stations.

Funds raised through the charity are used to provide mental health services to veterans as well as their support systems. Frey said that this is a spot where she feels Veterans Affairs lacks in resources.

When speaking about her personal experience, Frey said it was her family and support system that helped her to transition back into society.

“I came home in a pretty bad place mentally. I was angry and mad,” she shared. “My behaviors were so difficult and different from the person they sent off to war to the person that came back.”

The board of Buddy Check 22 is made up of members of Frey’s support system, including her cousin, Sarah (whom she refers to as her “cousi-ster”), who Frey credits to helping her reacclimate.

When brainstorming with Sarah one night, Frey reflected back on her difficulties. From there, they were inspired to provide resources to the veterans’ support systems.

Frey said the question became “How do we give their friends, their family, the tools necessary to support the veterans themselves through it?”

The goal from there was to help support systems create a healthy and healing environment for the veterans.

“My husband pointed out that veterans are really sensitive when talking about mental health,” Frey said, acknowledging that this is something nonveterans also struggle with.

The resources are not only free to veterans and their support systems, but it is also confidential.

Medical care for veterans

Frey said that Buddy Check 22 even works with Riverside through a veteran recognition program in the Critical Care service line. Buddy Check 22 provides a flag and recognition outside of all veterans’ rooms within the critical care area.

“What we have found by being able to recognize individuals as veterans is that it bridges a bit of the uncomfortableness of being sick and in the hospital and gives the employee walking in something to talk about,” explained Frey.

“You can hit somebody’s passion and start that emotional connection while they’re trying to recover and heal.”

In the event that a veteran passes away during their time at the hospital, an Honor Walk will be done by placing an American flag over the veteran so other employees “can honor the service member and their fight.”

Moving forward

Frey said Buddy Check 22 is always looking at ways to expand and advance in the community with events and partnerships. This includes the current effort to implement more family-friendly events for veterans and their families.

“I’m very passionate about this, and it definitely fills a spot in my heart,” she said.

For more information on Buddy Check 22, go to bc22vsa.com.