It is a fact, a troubling and painfully difficult fact, that military veterans are committing suicide at a rate higher than any other group today. We have been talking about this for a long time, and yet the numbers continue unabated. It is one thing to post an emotionally charged meme on social media about this issue or to say that “something needs to be done,” but it is another thing to actually decide to go out and DO something.
Michael Brooks, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, one as a combat engineer, is one of those people who know this issue personally. In this video, you will hear his story about his combat tours and the struggles he had when he came home, and his own attempt to be one of the statistics of the veteran suicide epidemic.
Brooks, by luck, or by the grace of God, was one of the lucky ones. He survived his own suicide attempt, but his response was to take an entirely different direction. He found a purpose and a new meaning in his own life. That purpose and meaning became the small service group that he started to help fellow veterans who are in danger of becoming yet another veteran suicide statistic.
His organization is called, “We Are The 22,” and it has been doing everything it can to meet and to walk with and to support veterans.
When I saw this video, an old and rarely spoken about moral principle came to my mind. The principle I was reminded of is the Principle of Subsidiarity. That principle states, on one hand, that “what individuals can accomplish by their own initiative and efforts should not be taken from them by a higher authority.” On the other hand, it means that the most effective efforts for healing, or for justice, are often best accomplished at the smallest, the most intimate levels.
I’m thinking here about the family. We cannot, and should not, depend on government, or large, bureaucratic institutions to know best how to handle the individual human struggles that happen to all of us. Families are the best place to meet, help, and support most of the issues that come along.
But sometimes, the immediate family is not enough. In the case of combat veteran suicides, their immediate families, no matter how much love they express in words and deeds, more often than not, don’t have the experiences to understand the combat-related PTSD issues that combat veterans carry with them. But, as all combat veterans know, there is another “family” of brothers and sisters that combat veterans have. They are the men and women who have been there too, who have endured and struggled with the same issues. They are the ones that can potentially be the most helpful in this matter.
Michael Brooks clearly understands this because of his own experiences with the psychological and physical wounds of combat and his own brush with suicide. His “We Are The 22” organization is small but apparently quite effective in helping their fellow veterans. Since his group started personally going out to their fellow veterans, wherever they are, to meet them personally, to walk with them and listen and support them, they have been able to help some 208 fellow veterans.
That is the Principle of Subsidiarity at work. Small and beautiful. I think it works best because of its personal connections.
While the VA and other large veteran or civilian entities recognize the problem and have developed some programs to help veterans in this situation, they often lack this more personal, hands-on, brotherly/sisterly touch that an organization like “We Are The 22” can provide.
I have great respect for what Michael Brooks and his over 50 volunteers are doing on behalf of their veteran brothers and sisters. I think they have the right idea here, and I can imagine that it is not an easy challenge. My hope is that this group might give others a similar idea to help turn this veteran suicide epidemic around. God bless the continuing work that they are doing.