Wicker raises awareness about veteran suicide via social media

Published 7:00 am Thursday, August 4, 2016

Twenty-two push-ups. It is a small gesture, but it is driving a popular campaign on social media to raise needed awareness about a heartbreaking problem: suicide among our veterans.

The number 22 was chosen to represent the average number of veterans who commit suicide every day, based on data from recent years. Although a new analysis of veteran suicide rates released by the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that the number has since decreased to 20, the number is still far too high. In 2014, the most recent year in the VA report, there were 7,403 suicides by veterans of the U.S. military.

I am among those taking part in the 22 push-up challenge, which is supported by a number of veterans groups. One nonprofit organization in particular, 22Kill, has a goal of reaching 22 million push-ups, counted by the use of the hashtag #22Kill on social media. Millions of push-ups have already been counted toward this target. Others are doing 22 push-ups for 22 days – a goal initiated by a U.S. Army veteran to broaden participation and encourage donations.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Honoring Clay Hunt

One of the first actions of the 114th Congress was passage of the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.” President Obama signed the bipartisan bill – which received unanimous support in both the Senate and the House – into law in February of last year. The bill, named after 

a Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011, puts a number of measures in place at the VA and Defense Department to improve veterans’ mental health care. 

These improvements include support groups for veterans, yearly reviews of mental health programs, and incentives to attract more psychiatrists to VA facilities.

Honoring Jacob Sexton

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have been a champion of efforts to prevent military suicide, introducing legislation with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the 113th Congress. That measure – titled the “Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act” – requires all service members to receive yearly mental health screenings. It became law as part of the 2015 defense bill. Last year, Sen. Donnelly and I introduced another reform that would ensure direct care providers routinely receive training in suicide risk recognition and management.

Caregivers should have the latest training and extensive support when caring for the men and women who serve our country – just as our troops should have timely and thorough mental health assistance. It is imperative for measures to be put in place proactively before we lose more Americans like Jacob Sexton, who served in the Indiana National Guard before taking his own life while on leave from Afghanistan. 

Legislation to support our country’s heroes and social media awareness campaigns to honor them are a reminder of the collective effort being made to help solve this national epidemic. Too many military families have already gone through the devastation of losing a loved one to suicide. We can be thankful for the progress that has been made, but our work is far from finished.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker