Twenty veterans a day take their own lives. Why?
It can be difficult for soldiers to find purpose and perspective after we end our active duty tour. It can be even more difficult to talk to someone about it, because as veterans we have a desire to uphold an image of strength and perseverance. As soldiers, we’re trained to look out for each other. But once back in the civilian world, we can fall into the darkness before anyone notices.
My military career has afforded me the privilege of meeting some extraordinary people who have helped me maintain hope and perspective.
One of those people was a nine-year-old boy named Dawson Barr. Dawson is legally blind, a brain cancer patient who came to my base so he could tour aircraft in preparation for a major airshow.
Despite the odds being stacked so completely against him, Dawson displayed admirable spirit. He told me, “When you are going through something, you just keep going. Eventually something good will happen and it will be okay.”
Those words have never left me. Whenever I’m having trouble keeping perspective, I think about Dawson. I laugh, because I realize I’m carrying around the wisdom of a nine-year-old. Dawson was wise beyond his years.
“Nothing But Darkness”
Then there are veterans like Bobby Barrera. Bobby was catastrophically injured after his armored personnel carrier detonated a 500-pound bomb rigged as a landmine in the jungle of Vietnam.
After losing his right hand at the wrist, his left arm at the shoulder, and suffering serious facial burns, Bobby entered one of those really dark places.
To Bobby, becoming an amputee was his lowest point: “It was nothing but darkness, no hope, no future.”
He could not see beyond his injuries. But Bobby eventually discovered his light. He didn’t give up. He met his wife, he found his purpose, and he restored his hope.
When it comes to preventing 20 veterans a day from taking their own lives, the key is awareness. But it’s not enough to be aware of the number. We need awareness of each other.
Every veteran knows what a ‘Battle’ is and who that person is to them. A ‘Battle’ is short for ‘battle buddy.’ In combat environments we are never supposed to be alone. We always have a ‘Battle.’
No veteran should be alone. We should all be in touch with at least one other person we can call on. We cannot wait for the darkness to surround us before we reach out to our ‘Battle.’
Sharing Value, Recognizing Your Gift
Life is a precious gift, and not just to ourselves. Everyone’s life is a precious gift to someone else, too. If you ever lose sight of your own value to yourself, ask someone close to you what your value is to them.
Likewise, make sure you tell others what their value is to you. You would be surprised how important that statement can be to someone who is in the darkness.
James Killen is Associate National Communications Director of Disabled American Veterans.
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