Twenty-three pairs of empty boots lined up in rows. My heart hurt looking at them, but I must look. I must visualize the soldier that once wore those boots with pride. I must ponder their roles as sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, friends, and patriots.

So much emptiness. Empty boots. Emptied lives.

For the last few years, I’ve volunteered a bit of my time to an event that supports veterans. As is often the case with volunteering, I get more out of it than I put in. This display of boots represents the 23 suicides each day – 22 veterans and 1 active duty soldier commit suicide each day. That is 8000 men and women per year. Think about that. Really think about it.

Those are the twenty-three that are reported, there are more that go unreported. Veterans and military also lead in single-vehicle and motorcycle accidents. In some cases, the deaths are not reported as suicide for lack of evidence or purposely out of a sense of honor. Twenty-three is far too many and it is a number higher than that.

So I live a quiet life. My family is safe and warm and home. I don’t know the first-hand worry of sending a soldier off. I don’t know the agony of getting them home, but never really getting them back. Since volunteering I’ve met those that do. I’ve knelt down next to those boots. Boots that are signed by loved ones. Boots adorned with photos of now fatherless babies. I’ve read their names. I’ve shed tears for veterans I’ve never met.

That isn’t enough of course.Army boots with family photo

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST) are the leading reasons for vet and military suicide. Our country can train a person to become a soldier, but can’t take care of them afterward. I’m no expert and I have no big ideas on how to fix that, but I feel certain we can all help.

It is all too easy for us to go about our comfortable lives insulated from the sad reality of so many struggling – people who were selfless in their willingness to protect our country and our comfortable lives. But that obliviousness gets harder once you’ve seen those empty boots. Here are a few simple suggestions to do your part:

  1. Get involved. Find an organization such as Invisible Wounds Project or Operation 23 to Zero. Donate some of your time and or money to help those who’ve given so much.
  2. If you know a veteran lend an ear and a hand. These are people who maybe aren’t used to asking for help. Let’s make sure they all know they aren’t alone.
  3. Share resources with someone in need. The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.
  4. Help someone who is struggling by listening. Reassure them it is okay to discuss their feelings, even suicidal thoughts. Help them to make an action plan of what to do if they are depressed and having such thoughts, like keeping the numbers above saved on their phone. Make yourself available.
  5. Perform simple acts of kindness. Letting a veteran know they are supported can provide hope.
  6. Last and surely not least, pray. At the event I attended we were given a little toy soldier to place in our home to remind us to pray for soldiers.

This Veteran’s Day as we say thank you to all those who’ve served let’s keep those struggling close to our hearts. Let’s all help keep boots full and families whole.