Tuesday, May 10, 2016

We can do better than '22 a day'

I recently read a post in Task & Purpose that reported, among other things, that the data supporting the “22 Veterans a day” who are reportedly committing suicide was taken out of context and was not completely accurate.  Suicide in general is a problem in this country—a problem we should all be working to solve. Even one suicide a day is one too many. The question then becomes, how do we actually solve this problem?

Some have decided that raising awareness of veteran suicide is the first step. While I believe it is important for folks to know what’s going on, I find the “22 a day” movement, as seen on this Facebook feed  too negative to do much good. Suicide is not just a Veteran problem—it’s an American problem, and if the narrative around suicide only talks about Veterans, the unintended consequence will be that Veterans will continue to be seen as broken. I myself am a wounded war fighter, but I’m definitely not broken. I am a member of Team Red, White and Blue which is one of the few organizations that pushes its members to be better every day through positive connection with people in the community, which is something all of us could use more of.

As I thought about this “22 a day” movement, I pondered how I could take a design thinking approach to create a more positive narrative regarding Veterans. I looked through my social media feeds and was surprised to find that NO Veterans Service Organization was attacking this problem. In fact, most of them amplify the “22 a day” message. Design thinking is based on human centered design, and suicide is a people problem. Rather than seeing suicide as an unsolvable paradox, I started thinking of suicide as a problem—a problem that must have an answer, or a combination of answers.

The Veteran Community Design Challenge:

How can we as the Veteran community create a more positive narrative that maintains awareness of Veterans issues, adds accountability, and encourages community members and Veterans to reach out to each other?

When I was in the Army, we had what we called “First Call”, which was a time first thing in the morning where we would make sure that all of the soldiers were accounted for before we began our daily physical fitness formation. The point was to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Physical training was important for keeping us in shape enough to do our jobs, and everyone had to go through it together. I then thought about how I might be able to use social media to create a social “First Call” and challenge Veterans and community members to connect with each other, hold themselves and each other accountable, and post what they were doing for their morning routine.

I decided to use the “First Call” and “Veterans” hashtag on Twitter. I started posting my pictures, holding myself and my fellow Veterans accountable.  My first post was on May 4th and it has been slowly gaining awareness. I quickly iterated and added posts using the “Joining Forces” hashtag as well, which has helped to create more awareness.

I know first hand that the world will eventually break us all--some sooner than others--and that being positive and looking for the silver lining has helped me become stronger at the broken places.

Follow me on Twitter @FrontLineLDR and help make the #Veterans narrative more positive by joining in the #FirstCall .

With David Chrisnger who runs the website
and also leads the Team RWB Storytelling initiative. 


Jonathan, the 300 K Man, is an experienced leader and coach with a proven record of leading and developing others to perform at higher levels and improve their overall effectiveness. He has a passion for learning and developing others to improve as leaders. Jonathan brings lessons from over 25 years of experience leading in U.S. Army Infantry, Cavalry, and Armor units in a wide range of assignments, to include leading soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. He is a decorated veteran and a recipient of the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. Jonathan served as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY before transitioning from the Army in 2015. He is a certified Executive Coach and operates his own leadership coaching business: http://www.quicksmartsleadership.com