More than a Number

ortiz_blog_May_06_16In 2012, a team from the Veteran’s Affairs Suicide Prevention Program released a 59-page document titled the Suicide Data Report. Its main focus was to demonstrate the amount of suicides by state, age, gender, and ethnicity that had occurred within the veteran population during that particular fiscal year. Little did they know that one of their stats would be the spark of several campaigns to empower our veterans to continue fighting for their lives.

The number I am referring to is the number 22. Its origin stems from a stat that represented the average amount of suicides that occur each day in the US amongst veterans. Although some have refuted this number, we cannot deny the positive outcome that was created amongst us veterans. Such has been the impact of the number, that it has spawned several non-profit organizations to use the number as their shield. Organizations such as “22 Too Many”, “22 Until None”, “Mission 22” and “#22Kill” have all been instrumental in making sure that none of the lives lost were in vain.

I first took notice of this movement when I stumbled upon the #22KILL pushup challenge that had been trending all over social media. This challenge consists of executing 22 pushups for the length of 22 days as a way to honor those who have served, raise awareness and educate the public about veteran suicides. I’ll admit that I’m not one to follow trends, but since this was so close to my heart, I was instantly on board. Plus, I knew that it was going to help me get prepared for my upcoming APFT. Day by day I would find a moment to knock out 22 straight pushups and in my own little way, honor those who had served. This routine went on smoothly for 15 days and it wasn’t until I read a couple of articles disagreeing on the emphasis that was put on the number that it really made me think about the challenge. These articles I read were not malicious and brought up some very valid points. I am very certain that none were intended to attack the integrity of these organizations. They just wanted to point out they wer
e not too enamored with the way the number 22 was being utilized.

Any statistician can tell you that numbers can be manipulated to anyone’s favor and the number 22 is no exception. But what these detractors fail to realize is how important symbols are to the military population. Symbols give us strength and help us get through many tough days. They can come in many forms such as dog tags, tattoos, pushups, a ring around the “trigger finger” or a t-shirt with a picture of a loved one. It really means a lot for us when we honor our fallen comrades, it doesn’t matter how.

When it comes to suicide, any number more than zero is too many. The number shouldn’t matter. What should matter is how these organizations are channeling their energy towards veteran suicide and how they are assisting in raising awareness on the various mental health issues that are affecting our men and women. Our focus should be solely invested in supporting these programs so that they can continue to spread the message of hope and courage. So if you want to show your support, go ahead and give a “22 pushup salute” to those who have served. Lord knows that they sacrificed everything they had to provide for their families and protect the land that they love. In the end, 22 pushups is just a small offering for all they gave up.