We’ve heard the numbers. On average, 22 Veterans end their own lives every day. This is an abhorrent reality, one in which 22 of our nation’s defenders feel their situations are so untenable that they see no other way out every day. It’s a sad reality, one that many people much smarter than I are working hard to change. There are small steps that we Veterans down here at the ground level can take that might end up saving a life.
Leaving the service is tough. I left halfway through our fifth deployment to the sandbox. Just a few days later I was being handed my DD214 while simultaneously hearing my guys had been hit hard, and that there were wounded coming home. One day I woke up in the sandbox, a few days later I’m in my Corvette with a couple hundred bucks and more freedom than I knew what to do with. The next year of my life was brutal and I owe my brother a great deal of thanks for giving me a place to figure out how I was supposed to fit into this weird world where booping someone with a rifle barrel was somehow not ok.
I missed that band of brothers fiercely. Not having that support network and camaraderie that had defined my life for years was an albatross around my neck. It has taken me a long time to figure out that it is not only possible to re-create some aspect of that, it is essential. I’ve been blessed with a tremendously supportive wife but I’ve watched a brother-in-arms struggle with the opposite. I’ve had the luck to live very near to not one but two of my Ranger buddies. I’ve seen what the lack of that proximity has done to others. Developing a new support network is imperative. My old squad leader liked to say “you can’t cram for the swim test.” You can’t wait until you’re at the bottom of the barrel to try and put together a cohesive group for mutual aid. Get it started when things are going well and it will serve you when things aren’t.
If you’re lucky enough to live near people you served with, that’s a big help. If not, consider looking up other people from your unit from generations before or after yours. Think about joining the VFW, American Legion or IAVA. Staying close to other Veterans can be a major boon. Otherwise, if your situation allows, consider volunteer firefighting, flight school, competitive shooting clubs or some other aspect of your new life that can have ties back to your old life.
Try to be an active part of your Veteran community. Work to keep in touch with those you served with so you can keep tabs on each other. Check your six and I bet you’ll see people there willing to support you. Just as importantly, you may see someone there who needs your help. That network you created might not end up being there for your benefit, it may end up saving someone else’s life.