Twenty-two. The number that is commonly used to represent the number of Veterans who commit suicide EVERY DAY. Think about that – twenty-two. So every day while you get up, complain about the weather, scold the kids, drive to work, bitch about your job, your boss, your spouse or your in-laws, lives end that you will never know about. When you wish something was different or better, when you wish you had more money, more time, less stress…..approximately TWENTY-TWO women and men who have taken an oath to protect each and every one of us, who have gone to war, who have seen things they cannot un-see, who have come home and tried to heal and ultimately lost that internal fight, end their life.
You can argue the point of is it really that many, how do you know, where’s your proof. To me the number only matters because it is MORE THAN ZERO!! Is any number acceptable? Is there a certain number we get to where we say, “ok, we did it, we lowered the number and everything is good now”. I’d like to suggest that number we need to reach is none. Not one soldier, not one man or woman who raised their right hand and promised to serve and protect, makes a decision to end the pain that their service to our freedom left them with by taking their life.
As the daughter of a 27 year Air Force Veteran, I remember as a child watching my Dad’s reel to reel movies of Vietnam. I remember the smell of those movies and I remember the look on my father’s face when he saw buddies that never made it home. I will never forget those feelings, but as a child, I did not really understand. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized exactly what my Dad’s service to this country truly meant. It wasn’t until I saw the effects of Post Traumatic Stress and how our Veterans are ‘typically’ treated with pills and hospital stays that only mask the problem, or how they ‘self medicate’ with alcohol or drugs did I truly grasp how very lucky our family was that our dad was not one of the statistics. Some how, he figured out a way to deal with the memories, the pain, what he had to do, what he saw. Some how, he came home and raised his family and loved our Mom. Today, I realize how very blessed we were, even when we didn’t know it, that our Dad was never one of the ‘twenty-two’. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Fast forward to a year and a half ago as I watched my youngest son, who had enlisted in the Army Reserves at the tender age of 17, walk away from me in all his Army gear to board a bus at the still tender age (at least in a mom’s eyes) of 19 to deploy with his unit in the United States Army for Operation Inherent Resolve. The day I never thought would come was here, and my baby was going to war. There is nothing that stops a mother’s heart more than knowing her child is going somewhere that will undoubtedly change their life forever. A place that you see on the news, but will never understand fully what is happening there. Unlike in my childhood years when I could not comprehend the effect that could have had on my father, as an adult, I knew full well the difference it could potentially make to my son. And I prayed…..come home safe, come home whole, and come home and don’t be one of the ‘twenty-two’.
I am beyond grateful that this statistic has not touched me personally and I am beyond proud of the service my family has given to this country. If anything, it has made me even more determined to help those that have come home with pain they cannot free themselves of.
Post Traumatic Stress. The dictionary definition is: a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.
As the Dog Program Director for a Non-Profit Organization that provides service dogs for Veterans with P.T.S., I have seen first hand the difference a trained dog can make in the lives of these men and women who have previously been pumped full of pills to ‘fix’ them. I have seen the dogs make a connection, create a bond, and literally save a life. I have seen the stories unfold from a life of isolation and prescriptions to a life of contentment and joy. I have seen it make a difference in one life after another.
We have twenty-two……and I will not stop until that number is zero. God bless our country…and God bless our Soldiers who have given so much for us and who get so little in return.
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