Commentary

Pushing for purpose: Let’s mark Sept. 22 as National Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day

On Sept. 22, at 12:22 pm EST, our team is hosting the first annual #22hardcore challenge. The challenge requires doing 22 pushups, on average, every two minutes, for 22 rounds; or 484 total pushups in 44 minutes. The purpose of this event is to start the campaign to establish Sept. 22 as Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day, to demonstrate the powerful ripple effect of reaching out for help, and to raise funds for suicide prevention. The event will be live streamed at the Team22Hardcore channel on Facebook.

Why it matters

We’re sure you’ve heard of the original “22 pushup challenge.” The challenge is simple, and meaningful: do 22 pushups every day for 22 days to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Our event consolidates those 22 days into 22 brutal two-minute rounds during one event.

A Department of Veterans Affairs report in 2012 indicated 22 veterans die by suicide every day, which is where the now-memorialized number originated. Subsequent reports released by the VA show the number is in flux, with some years including veterans, military and members of the National Guard and Reserve in reporting as well. The Department of Defense released its own report as recently as September 2019.

While the statistics may fluctuate and the actual daily number of deaths by suicide are difficult to ascertain, two truths remain. First, until the number is reduced to zero we must keep fighting. Second, this is not a battle for the DoD or VA to tackle separately. Our service doesn’t end when we take off the uniform, and neither does the battle within. The solution to this pandemic resides in addressing the issue collectively and holistically, one individual at a time, regardless of where we are in our cycle of service.

Over the years, the original 22 Pushup Challenge has faced criticism. Some media coverage has gone so far as to say the pushups aren’t actually helping anyone. All of us have done the original challenge; some of us have done it every year since it began trending. But small pebbles don’t make a big splash and we as a nation haven’t solved the issue. The problem isn’t the pushups. The problem is transitioning from building awareness to decisive action.

During the two months we’ve been planning this event, three of us have helped a friend in distress. One of us recognized they had been self-medicating and sought treatment. One of us even underwent training and is now a volunteer for the Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255). These examples remind me of the short story “The Star Thrower,” by Loren Eisley, the theme of which is this: while it may not matter to everyone, it mattered to someone. If we as untrained, unskilled knuckle-draggers can have an impact in just the past two months, imagine what we can all accomplish with you on our team. We have taken action, and so can you.

Why we’re doing it

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. We want to establish this moment, Sept. 22, 2020, as the first annual Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day; and we’re asking all of you, military and veteran alike, to join us in commemorating this day both now and in the future. Do something on this day to make a meaningful and impactful difference within our community.

Second, this event is a testimony to the powerful ripple effect of having the courage to #bethere to offer help; and to reach out for help when we need it. This event started with one person who reached out to a friend for help (while en route to a plane bound for Afghanistan). That friend asked another friend to help, and so on. Now there are dozens of us. The same thing happens when we reach out in distress. All of you share this core value; it’s why we all serve — to help those who need us the most.

Third, we are raising funds for veteran and military mental health services. For this event we have partnered with The Elk Institute for Psychological Health and Performance. We chose Dr. Elk because she understands the intersection of military and veteran mental health, and is blazing new trails by meeting us where we’re at — out in the field — and not the same tired model of having us sit on a couch beside a fake plant in an office painted in neutral tones.

Fourth, suicide hurts. It’s painful. Suicide prevention also hurts. It takes a willingness to be uncomfortable and ask difficult questions. This event is going to be uncomfortable and painful. Twenty-two pushups for 22 rounds every two minutes is going to hurt, and that’s by design. The time, effort and energy we’ve put into this event is symbolic of the willingness that you all share with us to take on the pain for one another.

Who we are

Within our team, four military branches are represented: Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Collectively, we are active duty, retired, veterans — both disabled and whole — military brats and civilians.

We are not professional athletes. Most of us could still only kick in a door if it was already slightly ajar. We are not mental-health experts. But we have lost people to suicide, we have spent long nights trying to prevent someone we know from taking their own life, and we have had to find the courage to reach out for help.

We are also you. If you’re reading this, you’re part of the movement now. We’re rolling out, and we need you with us. Time to suit up.

To contribute, please visit the team’s Go Fund Me page at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/veteran-and-military-suicide-prevention

To learn more about this event and Veteran and Military Suicide Prevention Day, email Team22Hardcore@gmail.com or contact via their Facebook page.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Veteran and Military Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information about the Elk Institute for Psychological Health & Performance click here.

Matthew Allen is an Army veteran and one of the founding members of Team 22 Hardcore. The team resides coast to coast, boarder to boarder and some are currently deployed in harm’s way. The opinions expressed herein are the author’s own in his personal capacity as a citizen.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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