As many 20 veterans and service members take their own lives each day, according to a recent Department of Veteran Affairs figures.
Those suicides partly reflect how difficult it can be to transition from a job that is so all-encompassing to civilian life.
Which is why the Merging Vets and Players (MVP) charity is keen to bring together combat veterans and retired professional athletes to help them adjust to life outside their professions. The organization has set up chapters in four major US cities, and the Atlanta branch is working closely with the Atlanta Falcons.
“To hear a soldier say ‘I’m not on any medication anymore. This is my new therapy,'” Dan Quinn, head coach of the Atlanta-based NFL team, told CNN’s Coy Wire.
“That’s powerful. Those are the moments that make you tear up to know the little impact you can have and make some difference.”
‘This brought me hope’
In the report released in 2018, there are on average 20.6 suicides a day, of which 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty service members, guardsmen and reservists. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year.
MVP was founded by Fox’s NFL insider, Jay Glazer, and Nate Boyer, US Army Green Beret Veteran and former NFL athlete who played for the Seattle Seahawks, in 2015.
“I was begging to take the misery away because I lost my tribe, I lost my team,” Tonya Oxendine, Army Command Sergeant Major, said as he talked about the challenge of leaving the army. “To lose that bond, it nearly broke me.”
After the physical activities, MVP coaches run something they’ve coined ‘The Huddle’ — an hour-and-fifteen-minute-long support group where participants are coached to be “proud of their scars.”
Through the exercise and sense of togetherness gleaned from the project, 27-year Army veteran Jamie Swinson says he no longer feels “hopeless.”
“I’m not the only one going through this and it gave me hope because there were times when I did feel hopeless,” he said.
“But this brought me hope. You don’t have to struggle by yourself.
“We’re willing to reach down and pick each other up because deep down, I know tomorrow I might be the one reaching out my hand and needing someone to lift me up.”
Staving off loneliness
Some of MVP’s ambassadors include former NFL players Michael Strahan, Olin Kreutz and Chris Long, who have experienced the hardships of retirement.
And eight-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowler Buddy Curry thinks the importance of showing ex-players and veterans that they are not alone is vital.
“There’s an opportunity to come together and be with people like yourself and share some of the stories and some of the things you’ve been through,” he said.
“It’s very powerful. And it’s a healing thing that happens.”