BRATTLEBORO >> For some, 22 is just a number, but for others it represents the number of veterans who commit suicide each day.
"I hope that some people will hear the statistic for the first time and will think it is surprising and shocking to them," said Lauren Mabie, 22, of Brattleboro. "We lose more veterans to suicide than in combat and that should strike anyone as a serious issue."
Mabie, who has lived in Vermont since she was 1, is the daughter of state Rep. Valerie Stuart and attorney, John Mabie. This past May, Lauren was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery Branch and is going to Baumholder, Germany, on Jan. 3, where she expects to stay for at least three years. This involves radar surveillance of the skies and the system that she will work on is the Patriot missile system.
However, Mabie will not leave her hometown until she brings more attention to veteran suicide, a topic that she says is very important to her. On Jan. 2, at 9 a.m., Mabie will lead a 22-mile walk/ruck from the Brattleboro Union High School main parking lot to the Putney Food Co-op and back.
"I think a walk is pretty symbolic of being resilient in the military because as soldiers there are a lot of obstacles to overcome, and one thing I learned early on in my military service was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that really stuck with me because walking and running are a great way to remind yourself everything is one step at a time, just keep going," said Mabie.
She notes that the walk will be challenging, even for someone like herself that makes an effort to run three miles everyday, five days a week. Mabie says that during the walk she hopes to wear her uniform and borrow a rucksack and fill it to a weight of about 35 pounds. Though Mabie has competed in a half-marathon in Washington, D.C., and has faced physical obstacles while training, this will be the furthest distance she has traveled on foot in one day.
"The reason I like to ruck is because people overseas do it all the time and ruck for more survival reasons than I ever have had to," said Mabie. "It makes me feel more connected to them when I have a ruck full of stuff; that makes it feel more realistic to a combat situation or being deployed somewhere."
Mabie studied International Relations at American University in Washington, D.C., and joined the ROTC program at school during the second semester of her college experience. While studying and training, Mabie was also a member of the American University Dance Team.
"I always wanted to be in the Army, but I didn't know there was a way to go to college and also serve at the same time, so when I heard about how to do that, I immediately knew that it was the right thing for me," said Mabie.
She was strongly drawn to the leadership aspect of the military and said that in her training experience she learned how to lead under pressure and in a crisis situation. Mabie has not stopped leading since she left college and hopes that the Brattleboro community and beyond will follow her on this walk to raise awareness about veteran suicide on Jan. 2.
If the full 22 miles is too strenuous for individuals, Mabie suggests that locals participate in a portion of the distance. Whether that means a few steps or miles or requires meeting the group at the halfway point at the Putney Food Co-op, Mabie hopes to see support from the community. She also notes that if individuals prefer to bike, they may do that if they wish.
The 22-mile walk is not the first of its kind in this country, in fact it is a common event throughout different communities. Mabie first learned about the statistic while in college, when 22 flags were displayed on her campus that represented the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. She continued to study veteran suicide and joined a Facebook group that challenged viewers to perform 22 push-ups each day to raise awareness about this issue. Her interest was further demonstrated when she wrote her ROTC final paper about suicide prevention in the military and presented a proposal to a panel of higher ranking military officers.
She stated that in her research she found that statistics from 2013 dropped from 22 to 18. Mabie noted that the Department of Defense projected that those numbers may return to 22 in the coming data for 2014 and 2015.
"I wanted to stick with the higher number for this walk because it felt wrong to reduce it when it was just one year that it was a little lower," said Mabie.
In addition, Mabie hopes people will educate themselves about what is going on in the military and will organize more conversations with veterans. She believes that the number of veteran suicides may drop if veterans are better understood by the general population through civilian to military conversations.
"I think it will be very key to reducing veteran suicides if people make an effort to educate themselves about what veterans have gone through over the past years that we have been at war," said Mabie.
This figure — 22 veterans a day — comes from the Department of Veteran Affairs 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed the death certificates of 21 states from 1999 to 2011. The most commonly cited figures from the report calculated a percentage of suicides identified with veterans out of all suicides in death certificates from the 21 states during the project period, which turned out to be 22 percent. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, about 13 percent of U.S. adults are veterans. The report applied that percentage against the number of suicides in the U.S. in a given year and divided by number of days in a year. The report came up with 22 veteran suicides a day.
"The biggest thing to me is that people learn how to talk to veterans about their experiences, not necessarily to pry, but so they're not afraid to hear what veteran wants to share with them," said Mabie. "And of course hiring veterans is extremely important, it's a great away alone to improve their experience when they come back and are no longer in the military."
She further believes that people should analyze the conversation they are having so that they do not overstep any boundaries of respect. She said it is basic protocol to avoid pushing for an answer when speaking with a veteran about their experience, especially if they express their discomfort with a topic. Mabie also suggests that the general public begin with general questions such as, "how was your experience?" or "how did you like your job in the military," or "what were some challenges that you faced?"
In closing, Mabie wants readers to ponder a 2009 quote by General George William Casey, Jr., George William Casey, Jr., a retired United States Army general who last served as the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from April 10, 2007 to April 11, 2011: "The stigma attached to seeking mental health is not just an army problem, this is a societal problem that we all have to wrestle with."
For further details about the event on Jan. 2 at 9 a.m., Mabie can be reached at 802-338-6580