Local man starts new project to promote lifesaving conversations, after one saved his own life


In 2010, Save a Tear Project creator and founder Scott Hampel, had been in a car accident that took him through a dark period in his life. After a couple of crucial conversations, a new hope and vision for himself ignited, and one he eventually wanted to share with others.

Approximately seven years after his accident, things got worse. “It felt like my brain was being crushed, explained Hampel.”
He started seeking answers through several doctors and various tests. Different symptoms seem to point toward traumatic brain injury (TBI), in which he was eventually diagnosed with.

As time went on, other than for an occasional cup of coffee, and the responsibility of picking up his grand-kids, Hampel spent the majority of his time in pain and in bed. “There was a point when I was lying in bed and I said, hey if I don’t wake up, I’m good to go, said Hampel. “If I die in my sleep, then I’m good.”

After a while, Hampel realized, “Nobody should feel like that, but I did. I was in that much pain, that I said let’s go.”

Shortly after, Hampel’s sister who worked for a mental health provider, reached out to her brother about his well-being and told him about the semicolon project. The Semicolon project is an organization that addresses depression and suicide. As the Project Semicolon website states: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” His sister encouraged him to do something similar.

This conversation inspired him to reach out to others. “I figured hey, if there’s other people who feel as bad as me, if there’s something I can do to help them, this is it,” said Hampel. “When somebody commits suicide, how many tears are shed? All I’m trying to do is save a few tears.”

His Save a Tear Project was born.

Through his project, based out of Vancouver, WA, he would begin making and donating laser cut bamboo necklaces, dog tags, bracelets, and key chains. Each item has a semicolon image or a message of hope and reminder on one side, and a toll-free suicide prevention number listed on the other.


Business cards with names can get lost. Hampel’s items are something tangible people can have at all times. “You can hold it; draw whatever you need to get from it. It means that somebody cares about you because they got it to you. I care about you because I’ve made it with my own hands,” exclaimed Hampel.
“They ‘re touching it. They can look at it. It’s a reminder day after day that you’re important, that you’re loved, and people care about you. We’re here and you’re not alone.”

Hampel’s hope is that these items will help get people to start talking. “It’s all about having conversations. If you see someone sitting alone, or was bullied, you can reach out. Try to include people and let them know I’m here for you. “You can talk to me anytime,” expressed Hampel. “Student to student, mom to dad, counselors or teachers because sometimes, silence is the killer.”

Hampel gradually started his new project and then picked it up further with the help of his three grand-kids. They make the items right out of Hampel’s house. After designing an item, it’s sent to a laser cutter. Once returned, they finish assembling, sanding, clear coating, and tying all the bracelets.

“There’s a lot of work to it, but it’s all worth it. This really got me through a real dark time. This kind of helped me focus in on one thing to work on and would take the pain away for a little bit. This probably kept me alive,” stated Hampel.

Involving his grand-kids gives him an opportunity to keep open communication with them. They have conversations about how they are doing in school, if they are getting bullied or if anybody is bothering them. Hampel plans to continue that open relationship with them through high school and into their adult years.

He hopes to set an example when they are young, “so in their life they’ll go out and do good things, better things, and they’ll help people,” said Hampel. He reports his grandkids already have a sense of community and help everybody in the neighborhood.

Right now, since its only him and his grandkids, they make the items mostly for specific causes. Hampel says the hardest part is to try and raise money. His goal is to become a non-profit organization with corporate sponsorships so he can expand nationwide to every school, college, and university “with thousands of items always ready to go”.


A lot of the items he made in the past were paid out of his own pocket, but he has been able to sell items at expos and received smaller sponsorships and donations.

Currently he plans on donating items to the Fort Vancouver Highschool. A couple he recently met at a tabling sponsored 100 items for the school. Hampel worked with getting items to veteran groups. He donated 200 pieces to the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center and 100 pieces to Backpack for Life out of New Jersey, a veteran outreach program that fills backpacks with toiletries, supplies, and resources for supportive services. BFL clipped Hampel’s donated key-chains on to the backpacks. Hampel will also be working with a veteran motorcycle group this month.

Other groups he’s donated to are First Responders, the Girl Scouts, and the LGBTQ community.

Hampel has been operating the Save a Tear Project intermittently for about a year, but has “really been hitting it hard” in the last four months. Although he’s always donated and helped out various charities, Hampel states besides changing his diet and having work done on his neck, he attributes his new mission as a big part of his improved health. He also says, “In my opinion, one day I was sitting on my porch and asked God to take away the pain. A couple days later, I felt better. Maybe I went through all that agony to come out the other side to do something good for our community.”

It’s been the longest he felt good in 2 ½ years. He says he is thankful every day. He credits his family for their help and support in order to carry out his mission of promoting crucial life-saving conversations.

Hampel is also an artist. His paintings and recreations from reclaimed or recycled wood tables are what he calls post apocalyptic modern tables and paintings. Some of the profits from his artwork go toward his cause.

To learn more about the Save a Tear Project and his art work, you can follow his Save a Tear Project Facebook page.

For more related stories, go to Thuy Smith Journal

Veteran Service Officer touches on a few benefits

We will have more shows on benefits coming in near future. If you have questions on any of the benefits we highlight or would like to learn more about a particular benefit, please leave a comment in the appropriate section or email us at our main website

Veterans Non-Service Connected Pension

Mike Haley is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is also a County Veteran Service Officer for WI.

Veterans Non-Service Connected Pension

 A VA pension is paid to wartime veterans who have limited income and are considered to be totally disabled for work purposes.  A wartime veteran age 65 is automatically considered disabled for this pension.

The general rule for eligibility is active duty service with an honorable discharge served at least at some point during wartime.   Most veterans serving from December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946, June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955, August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975 and after August 2, 1990 are in the eligible timeframe.

The financial numbers to be used for determining this pension are income from almost all sources including social security, interest, retirement payments, dividends, and from a business. The veteran’s household income can be reduced by subtracting a portion of medical expenses incurred during the year.  After subtracting medical expenses from the income, if a single veteran’s income is below $985.00 a month or a married veteran’s household income is below $1291.00 a month, they could be eligible for pension (2011 figures).

The numbers for a married couple would include both incomes and both medical expenses.

Additional benefits are payable to veterans who are permanently Housebound or are in need of Aid and Attendance of another person to perform the daily activities of living. If a wartime veteran needs help in daily living functions (such as bathing, feeding, dressing etc), is blind or bedridden, they may be eligible for a higher amount of pension.  A veteran in a nursing home or in some cases assisted living; they may also be eligible for the higher rates.

If you have any questions contact your County Veterans Service Officer located usually at the courthouse, or other VA representative.

Summary of Veteran Benefits

Mike Haley serves on the Thuy Smith International Outreach (TSIO) Advisory Board. He is a County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) and Vietnam Era Vet.

A summary of VA benefits

 The Veterans Administration has a variety of benefits available to veterans.  There are eligibility criteria for these benefits that can be established by checking with Veteran Service Offices in each county. 

These benefits include compensation if you are disabled as a result of your military service.  There is also a non-service related disability pension for wartime veterans with limited income and assets and are disabled or at least 65 years old.  There is no time limit to apply for these benefits.

 One big benefit is health care from the VA.  The VA Health Care system can provide primary care, hospital care, medications, counseling and many other services to veterans.  There are some eligibility criteria but many veterans are able to use this program.  They have VA clinics in many areas including Chippewa Falls, Rice Lake, Hayward and Loyal, Wisconsin.  They have Medical Centers in Minneapolis, MN and Tomah, WI. 

 There are also other programs that deal with Education, Home Loans, burial benefits, Vocational Rehabilitation and employment.  Some lower-income veterans could be eligible for grants to help with dental care, vision and hearing issues.

 This is a brief summary of Veterans benefits.  If you have questions you can call a VA representative including County Veteran Service Officers in your county. 

 See link below for more information on the VA Health Care system- https://commonbondveteranscircle.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/va-health-care-information/

VA Health Care Information

Mike Haley serves on the Thuy Smith International Outreach (TSIO) Advisory Board. He is a County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) and Vietnam Era Vet.

Read more about him & other authors on Author Bio page-


VA Health Care

 The VA Heath Care system provides a full range of medical care for veterans. This care includes preventative outpatient and inpatient services within the VA system of over 1,400 medical centers and clinics across the nation.  In this area there are VA clinics in Chippewa Falls, Rice Lake, Hayward and Loyal, Wisconsin.  There are also medical centers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Tomah, WI. 

The way to use VA Health Care is to enroll in the system.  The VA applies a variety of factors in determining veteran’s eligibility for care. The best way to determine if you are eligible is to contact your County Veterans Service Officer or VA medical center. 

The first factor in determining eligibility is:   Were you in the active military and discharged/released under honorable conditions or in the reserves/national guard and called to active duty by federal order and completed your call up period.  If you meet this criteria, then you are probably eligible if:

  • You were discharged for medical reasons, hardship or early out
  • You served in a combat theater and have been discharged less than 5 years
  • You were discharged because of a disability incurred in the military
  • You are a former POW
  • You received a purple heart
  • You receive a veterans pension or compensation
  • You receive state Medicaid benefits
  • You served in Vietnam

These are other ways of being eligible for VA Health Care that include having an income below the threshold that is set according to each county.  This figure is based on income and then subtracting medical expenses. An eligible veteran will receive comprehensive health care.

 There are other misconceptions about VA Health Care that are not true including:

1.      I can’t use the VA if I have private medical insurance — you can use the VA or you can have dual care – both your private doctor and the VA if you want.

2.      I make too much money to qualify for VA health care —  That depends on a number of  factors and the best way is to fill out the application(no cost) and the VA will make that determination. The income figure has been going up and more veterans are qualified now.

 3.      I was not in during a war so I am not eligible  —  War period service is not a requirement.

4.      I was not injured in the service so I am not eligible.  Most veterans using the VA medical system are not service connected.

The best way to find out if you are eligible is to fill out the application for medical care.  You can pick one up at your County Veterans Service Office, a VA clinic or hospital or get an application on-line.