You may have seen your friends post news articles on Facebook discussing the number, or others broadcast their challenges on Instagram. You may not be connected at all with social media, but instead you see it in your city streets, hear from your friends who served, or witness first hand the loss of a family member.
22 A Day
In 2012, the VA published the results of their investigation into Veteran suicide trends.. They collected the death certificates from 21 states and cataloged the number of deaths to Veterans classified as suicide. Based on these collections, they established that just over 21% of all suicides are committed by Veterans. Taking the established annual average for the same period of 38,000, they extrapolated a total of 8,000 annually, or 22 Veterans a day who take their lives.
The researchers of the study made it clear that their access to data was limited, and some of these assertions did not have hard numbers behind them. They cautioned against using 22 a day as a strong statistical conclusion for factual discussion, but referenced a previous study that put the figures in the 18 to 22 a day range. Regardless of what the actual figure may be, it's a shocking number to hear, but perhaps made less so when considered that suicide is tenth on the list of US causes for mortality.
The DoD has since published a study asserting that Veteran suicide is unrelated to deployment in an active warzone, that percentages are trending downward, and a broad consensus towards improvement is emerging.
Regardless of whether or not the numbers are incomplete and improvements are coming, there were some striking conclusions taken from the body of research that should be noted:
- Veterans have 24% lower all cause mortality risk; but have a 41% to 61% HIGHER risk of suicide compared to civilians.
- 65% of Veteran Suicides are from subjects 50 or older.
- The rate of suicide DOUBLED in Veterans when linked to substance abuse disorders.
We can make some casual assertions from these trends that can be supported by anyone's anecdotal experience in a large metropolitan area. How many homeless have you met with substance issues who also appear to be Veterans? And given that two thirds of Veteran suicides are over the age of 50, how many of those do you think are linked to past engagements and poor debriefing practices?
I don't decide when and where men and women are deployed in harm's way. Nor should I. Politics aside, I am tired of seeing service members deployed regularly without the tools they need to best do their jobs. I don't decide how discretionary spending or the military supply chain works. I am even more tired how what happens when Veterans come home, the lack of support from their respective branches, or the absence of training needed to assimilate into civilian life. A great number of Veterans enter service at 18 years old, have spent every moment of their military career being told what to do, and did not develop the skills to be a self-sustaining adult in the civilian world.
Giving Veterans the help they need to thrive the rest of their lives is something you and I CAN actually contribute to.
Developing relationships with service members in your community who may or may not be struggling is something anyone can contribute time and effort to and can go a long way towards normalizing these figures.
Optimistically, the VA found that people who called the Veterans Crisis Line for help and stayed in regular contact had a significantly reduced re-occurrence of depression or substance issues and event of suicide. Veterans are programmed with the skills to execute; they just need a plan of action.
I am not a Veteran. Two of my very best friends are and many of the athletes I've trained in my coaching career have been. They are outstanding people and I am fortunate they don't fall into this statistical category. I don't really have the skills to address the issue on any large scale or make a difference politically. But I have a special place where people support each other in constant pursuit of excellence. And maybe if I put on a silly workout that reflects who we are as a community, we could do some good in our city.
22 Lifts consists of 11 Snatches and 11 Clean and Jerks, one lift performed every minute, with increasingly heavier weights, for a total of 22 minutes. It is a test of patience, mastery, conditioning, strength, and fortitude under pressure. We are working with Veteran owned companies to provide prizes for competitors and bring awareness to the issue. And we will be donating our proceeds to the Veterans Bridge Home, a Charlotte based 501(c)3, that helps Veterans with any kind of support they need. Job training and placement. Navigating how to file for VA benefits. Programs for mental health and substance abuse. Whatever is needed, the Veterans Bridge Home answers the call. I can think of no better way than to see the power individuals can have on the community than bringing us together and arming this nonprofit with our support.