Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide, according to a study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012.
That staggering statistic is the driving force behind an amazing journey two veterans have been making across the country on foot.
Adam Lingo and Joseph Cox are walking across America, along Route 66, hoping to bring awareness to a problem that is near and dear to their hearts.
The walk started out more innocently than that according to the two men, who sat down with the Daily Guide Monday night to talk about their journey. They began talking about doing the walk a couple of years ago with men they served with in Iraq.
Half way into planning the adventure, it became about the cause. A fellow soldier, one of many they had served with, committed suicide. Their friend is one of around 20 men they have served with and lost in the years since they served, they said.
Not all of the men killed themselves the way that Nick Becker did. According to Cox and Lingo, Becker shot himself, but hid the symptoms very well from his friends and family.
"There's more than one way to kill yourself," Lingo said pointing to instances of drinking and other self-destructive behavior among their brothers in arms.
The men say leaving the military, especially after serving in a war, is difficult and there is a stigma attached to seeking help. Becker never sought any kind of mental help, Lingo said. Doing the Walk of Life was a new mission the men say they needed.
"The mission is to end the conversation everyone says we should have. We've been having that same conversation after every war," Cox said, naming every conflict America has been involved with since WWI. "We want to push the conversation out of the way and get people involved in this."
"There's a lot of help out there and a lot of the time veterans don't look for the help," Lingo said.
The two men discussed the stigma attached with seeking psychological help for soldiers, even when they are former soldiers, and how sometimes men worry about seeming weak. Cox said he felt that people will talk about the problem, but not enough is being done about it.
"People will spend four to five hours blaming everyone else for not doing anything when they could have spent that time doing something," Cox said.
The Walk of Life has been an eye opening experience, both men said. They have met Gold Star families, veterans groups, and even stopped in to see fallen brothers' family members.
Four Gold Star Families, the Mortons of Texas, the Plumondores of Albuquerque, and Sue Davis of Joplin came out and walked for a time with them. They served with Ben Morton, Adam Plumondore, and Todd Davis, all of whom lost their lives in the line of duty.
They "crashed" the wedding of their friend Army Sgt. Christopher Sanders' sister. Sanders was killed entering a house in Iraq that had been booby trapped on January 8, 2008 and Cox was part of the team that had to pull his friend's body from the rubble.
The meeting with Sanders' family at his sister's wedding was a healing experience for both the family and Cox. Cox was able to show Sanders' rank to his mother and will be taking the rank to Arlington, Virgina where the men plan to end their walk on Veterans Day, before giving the rank back to Sanders' mother.
The men were animated and passionate about discussing veterans mental health during the interview with the Daily Guide. When asked what they felt the problem with our current system could be, both men had some ideas.
"Veterans are failing because they aren't looking for the help," Lingo said.
Cox called the current system antiquated and populated with individuals who don't understand what veterans are truly going through.
"The system needs people who understand the person sitting across from them," Cox said. "There's a lack of understanding in the system itself."
Cox said he would like to see more veterans gaining the training to help other veterans dealing with post traumatic distress disorder, suicidal thoughts, and other issues that are leading to the high numbers of veterans committing suicide.
Both men said the veterans groups that are out there need help networking with one another and getting their information out there. Removing the stigma of seeking help seemed to be the biggest obstacle both men felt veterans were facing, pointing back to their friend Becker.
"He planned it for a while, we think," Lingo said discussing how friends and family discovered that he was making future plans with everyone at the same time, but he cleared out his bank account and blew through a large sum of money in a month, all the while hiding the typical signs that he was planning to kill himself.
That incident, they said, is what "locked" them into pushing this cause "hard core." Becker's mother has become one of their biggest fans and will be meeting them in Arlington for the final leg of the journey.
The Walk of Life plans to enter Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, November 11, 2017 for the final leg. Their Facebook entry describing the event calls it "not an ending, but a beginning."
"While this journey has brought us many facets and reflections, we are most proud and humbled Walk of Life has built camaraderie. A bridge. A diversity of people. Some steeped in traditions, others lost in transit, but all sharing a common ground of authenticity in supporting Veteran integration back into families and communities. A meaningful connection, closing the gap between those who serve and those who don’t. We are thankful for each and every one of you who has been part of this journey and we look forward to the future and all that we can accomplish together," the Walk of Life Arlington event said.
People are encouraged to follow their journey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Deuceforlife where they post photos and videos of their journey. They will also be appearing on Daily Guide's Live @5 this Thursday. People are encouraged to ask questions and join the conversation.