Saturday, March 1, 2014

22 Veterans Commit Suicide Every Day: Where are they?

I'm sure that you've heard the statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. You can find thousands of articles on-line talking about it.

I've been working on an art project that coincides with my run that brings this to statistic to light. I'm glad that this information has been brought to our attention, but I don't know what we are supposed to do with it.

When we hear this statistic over and over in the news, we become desensitized to the information. We forget the enormity of every single one of those losses, forget that every single one of these men and women were just like us-- human beings. They had dreams, families, knowledge, and wisdom that they will now never have the chance to impart to us.

My performance art project was to paint 22 portraits of 22 veterans who have taken their own lives on 22 rocks and carry them in a backpack with me while I run across the United States. I would start with one rock in CA, adding one every five days, until I ended up with 22 in New York. This was to say that I am willing to carry the burden of this loss. I am willing to feel the weight of this problem myself, because I believe it is something that we all should be feeling. Gandhi said that we must be the change that we want to see in the world.

I truly believe that in our current society and culture, it is not until we personally feel the full weight of problems like these (either through experience or empathy) that we find the impetus to change.

However, I've run into a problem.

I can't find any information on veterans who have committed suicide. If twenty-two veterans are dying every day, then why don't we hear about who they are?

Daniel Somers: one of the only veterans whose story
was made available to the public when his parents
published his suicide note. 
After months of searching for names, and pictures, and stories, and coming up with next to nothing,  I've come to the realization that suicide is one of those life events that deeply cuts everyone who is close to the victim. Suicide leaves anger, confusion, blame, sadness, regret, and guilt in its wake more than any other cause of death.  I try to empathize with those who have lost the ones that they love to suicide, and it's hard. It's never happened to me. But I can imagine that it would be devastating. And I suppose that it is not really something that I would enjoy talking about, especially with a reporter or a writer.

But...100,000 veterans have committed suicide since September 11, 2001. Shouldn't we be talking more about it?

I might be making an assumption, but this seems like an indicator of a much bigger problem. If we don't study it, how will we ever improve? How will we ever be able to change? How is it that the most dangerous part of the military now is coming home? What does this say about our country and our culture?

How am I supposed to honor 22 fallen veterans on my run when I cannot even find out who they are?



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  2. Anna, my brother in law committed suicide after he returned from Iraq and was told months later he was going back. He was active duty, so I don't know if that is the same as a "veteran" to you. But I'd love to have you carry of rock for him. I would love to meet you and also to connect you with my sister (his wife) and their amazing children. His name is SFC Benjamin Miller. here is is facebook memory page. Please contact me on facebook or via email. Kassi Earle Clifford (fb) (email). thank you for what you are doing. <3