Friday, November 22 was the first day I devoted to #HELP22, the initiative I started with Commander Kirk Lippold USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. #HELP22 is our response to this startling and tragic fact: As many as twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day.
I pledged to spend the 22ndof each month providing counseling to any veteran, free of charge. As we build #HELP22, my hope is that other counselors, life coaches, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy members around the country will do the same. We plan to recruit them and organize them.
On Friday, I spoke with veterans from multiple branches of the armed forces, and I was humbled by what I heard. These individuals devoted themselves to our freedom, despite the gravest of risks. Many of us can’t imagine leaving our loved ones, leaving the country and putting our lives on the line to defend freedom, but these individuals did just that. They lost dear friends who fought alongside them. They bore witness to acts of violence that, thankfully, most of us will never have to confront. They were themselves injured. They saw civilians killed by the enemy—especially civilians who aided our cause for freedom.
Not one person I spoke to on Friday asked for any sympathy, by the way. There was not one ounce of self-pity expressed. None. They simply wanted to be heard. They wanted to share the roots of their pain, not to complain about it, but to explain it. Because that opens the door to the workings of human empathy. And empathy, properly harnessed, is one of the greatest healing forces in the world.
When you are a good and decent person and your self-concept is that of a leader, and you inevitably lose men under your command, it can cut you to the core. And the bleeding from that psychological wound can be hard to stop. But witnessing it, as a fellow human being trained in the listening arts, can begin to heal it.
When you are so heroic that you are willing to live in a Vietnamese village, alongside American sympathizers and then learn that, after your departure, the village has been burned to the ground by the enemy, and that dozens have been killed, you need someone to hear you out. Because your story is too much to carry in your own soul, alone.
The fact that the men and women who risked their lives doing the work of defending America and her allies should find themselves in such desperation that they take their own lives is a cruel irony. #HELP22 will never be, of course, a complete solution to veteran suicide. But I know that every single hour I devote to listening to the stories of our heroes has the potential to remind one of them that another human being values what he or she sacrificed for me and my family and my fellow citizens and also understands—at a basic, human level—the resulting psychological wounds.
Keith Ablow, MD
Dr. Keith Ablow is a counselor, life coach and co-founder of #HELP22, which he started with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. Dr. Ablow was, for 10 years, a Fox News Channel national on-air Contributor and member of the Fox News Medical A Team. Any veteran who wishes to schedule an appointment for the next #HELP22 day, on December 22, should email [email protected].
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