Watching the news during this election cycle doesn’t inform me – it just pisses me off.
The Winners and Losers
Veterans are not political pawns. I am not interested in how talking points are manipulated for one side or the other, and that is all I seem to see on the news today. Here is my message – while our Veterans are being used like a frayed rope in a tug-of-war for political advantage, lives are being destroyed. Everyday. The specter of suicide has no political affiliation, and right now, that specter is winning. Our Veterans and Families are losing.
In the past year, I have traveled this country to connect with people impacted by this horrible issue. I knew the problem was dire, but I had no idea how pervasive, pernicious, and widespread the issue of Veteran suicide is across our nation. Sure, I heard the numbers, but I didn’t know the stories. The elements from each of these stories are equally similar and tragic. A Veteran returns and things aren’t the same. Feelings of betrayal. Feelings of disappointment. Feelings of loneliness and pain. Loss of identity. In the end, the detritus includes a family struggling desperately with guilt and questions with no answers. Children are without their mother or father. A widow is left alone. A mother and father left to grieve, and a community is both shocked and confounded. How could a hero and such a strong young man or woman end up wallowing in such despair?
Honestly, it is draining – personally and emotionally. Wearing a shirt that says “Stop Soldier Suicide,” I want to offer them consolation, but how? How could I help them heal? What do you say as a former battalion commander – an organizational leader – who knows that our institution is failing our people and their families? What do I have to offer someone who committed to serving this nation and lost everything in the process of doing so?
The Need for Unity
Then I turn on the news. I see that the issue of Veteran decay, suffering, and loss is packaged as a talking point to gain political leverage . . . and I can’t tell what bothers me more – the disappointment that we can trivialize our Veterans and families into a sound bite, or how far we still have to go to gain the understanding necessary to solve what is truly a solvable problem. We can fix this, but we can’t fix it this way. We cannot fix it by infighting and bickering about who said what. We cannot fix it by throwing more money into programs that are clearly not working. We cannot fix it by expanding the very bureaucracy that is perpetuating this horrible problem.
The decay of a life and downward spiral for a Veteran and their Family is very personal. Therefore, the fight is on that level. We can only fix this one person at a time. We can only fix this one family at a time. We can only fix this one community at a time. To do that, we need to stand together. We don’t compete with other organizations attempting to solve this problem. We are partnered with organizations like #22Kill and Mission 22, because we all get it – One Tribe, One Fight to end the problem of military-related suicide. We acknowledge that we can only solve this issue through collaboration – one person, one family, one community at a time. The Reverse Boot Camp is an initiative designed to build a program that retains the intimacy necessary to provide personalized support to our Service Members and their families so they can discover a better path and renewed purpose after the military.
News You Can Use
The people with whom I have met across the country will tell you that I make a promise that we will fix this. But we can’t do it by deferring to government programs and institutions. The whole point of our petition (and by “our” petition, I mean the community of organizations and the more than 40,000 people who have already signed) is to drive the conversation on what is needed to better support our Veterans and Families. Period. We can solve this problem only by standing together and every single person making their contribution – by calling a Veteran, by volunteering, by sharing awareness, by signing the petition, by getting involved.
So, here is a sound bite for you: We can and we will solve this problem. Together. Be a part of this movement and the solution – from the bottom up. Be a part of the story that brings hope and inspiration to our Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.
The winner is not left/right, liberal/conservative, republican/democrat. The only winner in the most important battle against suicide is our Veteran and their Family. Print that. Publish that press release. That is some news worth reporting.