By Andrew Ellis, Editor-in-Chief
In the military community, 22 isn’t just a number. It’s a heartbreaking statistic. And Sailor Jerri feels it needs more awareness from the general public.
“I wrote the words to ’22’ because we lose approximately 22 of our men and women a day to suicide,” she says. “Far more then we lose to war.”
The inspiration for the song came from the messages she received due to her special version of “Hallelujah.” She’s also heard countless stories while she’s worked with veteran support groups over the past four years. She found there was a gap in communication between the military and the public.
“Vets are helping Vets, but so many families and civilians just had no idea some of the issues Veterans face when they come home,” she says. “After the impact of ‘Hallelujah’ I wanted a song that helped connect civilians with Veterans. Something that they could empathize with.”
Coming home isn’t easy for soldiers. They go through a process known as reintegration and it’s not an overnight thing – there are tons of internal conflict.
“Some want to go back and feel they haven’t done enough,” she says. “A huge issue is how they’re treated.”
She doesn’t mean to say veterans are treated poorly. In fact, she says today’s Veterans treated far better than they have been in the past. She refers to the problem of what she calls “shutting off the soldier.”
“You come back and are expected to be a mom, dad, spouse, and employee,” she says.
It’s that idea of “you’re not soldier anymore,” she says. But that soldier mentality can’t just be turned off like a light switch.
“These guys live on the edge of adrenaline. To stay alive and to keep the guy next to them alive,” she says. “They train for it, live it, and breathe it. You cannot just turn that off. It’s a transition that takes time.
That time varies, too. While there are several sources out there that say the reintegration stage lasts several months the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR.org) says it can actually range from months to years. It all depends on the service member and the kind of life they have to transition back into.
“Everyone’s transition is different. Some find it relatively easy and others struggle,” according to the NCFR.org article. “There’s also the factor that many service members are getting ready for another deployment as soon as they come home. They also have to learn how to function as a family again, and many of their roles have been taken up by either their spouse or one of their older children.”
This raises many questions, too. One of the main questions is figuring out the best way to help. Jerri says one helpful thing is to look for signs that they may be struggling.
“The signs are different for everyone, but being withdrawn is a common one,” she says.
Another thing is to tell them you’re willing to listen and not judge. She reiterates that these veterans chose to live this kind of life where they often witness unspeakable acts, so others don’t have to. It’s not something they’d tell you about during a regular conversation, and they may not even tell family members in general.
“That has to be okay, too,” she says. “Some will only talk to other veterans. If they are more willing to use the VA (a lot of us don’t) that’s good,” she says. “But if they don’t, get them to keep in touch with guys they served with.”
Veterans are a tough group of people, and they don’t want to be seen as weak. That means they won’t seek help. They also feel that no one will understand and that they’re all alone. Jerri says the best thing we can do is convince them that we care, and that we’ll listen – and there are others out there dealing with the same issues.
“Remind them that they are not alone,” she says. “And there is an entire community of us out there to talk to.”