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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

June 08,2016

Delaware legislators aim to increase awareness on veteran suicide

 

BY ZOË READ

Political leaders in Delaware exchanged their suits and heels for T-shirts and sneakers. Led by members of the military, State Senators and Representatives—and even Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware—knelt to the ground and made their best attempts at pushups.

The goal was to bring awareness to mental health challenges facing veterans.  According to state officials, 22 U.S. veterans take their own lives each day.

Now Delaware legislators vow to do 22 pushups or another physical activity, every day for 22 days to symbolize the statistic.

“It’s not just a number,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, who hosted the event. “They’re actually people and we need to start working with those people, and what better way to bring attention than here in the Delaware Assembly?”

The “22 in 22” challenge was created last year by St. Mark’s High School senior Jacob Di Sabatino, who plans to join the army after college.

“As an Army lover and USA lover it’s something that really touched my heart and something I knew I had to touch on,” he said.

Last fall, Delaware Technical Community College members pledged to run or walk 22 miles in 22 days.

“Last year I thought it would be a small group, me and my coach and five buddies doing laps on the track but it exploded into this huge event last year,” Di Sabatino said. “We were able to carry it over to this year and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

Many soldiers struggle with the horrors they witnessed at war, and others are challenged by the stresses of integrating back into family life, said Maj. General Frank Vavalva of the Delaware National Guard, which participated in the event. Providing behavior health support can be the difference between life and death, he said.

Last year the Delaware National Guard lost two members to suicide, which traumatized the organization, Vavalva said.

“Trying to piece it together as to why, and what we may have missed in a way of seeing the telltale signs around suicide,” he said.

“That’s why this is so important. It heightens awareness, and hopefully it will bring more people to understand, and to anyone who knows a veteran to be able to bring it to someone’s attention to get them help they need.”

Di Sabatino said he hopes his campaign will help decrease the veteran suicide statistics to zero.

“Even though it’s sad to say it, we might have to stop doing the ‘22 in 22’ because there’s going to be zero suicides,” he said.