Helping Veterans Find their Purpose Post Service

Helping Veterans Find their Purpose Post Service

by Susan Neuhalfen

22 veterans per day commit suicide. That is a very real statistic to those suffering from PTSD as well as our wounded warriors. Currently, more veterans are lost to suicide here in the United States than to combat overseas.

In 2004, Marine Michael Jernigan was struck by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. He had 45% of his cranium crushed and lost both of his eyes in addition to other injuries. Over 30 major surgeries and sixteen months later, he went home to Florida which he equated to “hitting a brick wall.” He knew he needed help and he knew others did, too.

Jernigan was asked to be in HBO’s Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, a documentary produced by James Gandolfini where he met 3rd generation Marine Jacob Schick, who was severely wounded in Iraq in 2004. Schick introduced him to Andy Nguyen and Judd Rogers, the founders of Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. a non-profit organization focused on veteran empowerment.

“What I’ve seen is that a lot of these guys lose their purpose,” said Mark Roy, the Commandant of the Marine Corp. League in Denton County as well as a board member of Honor Courage Commitment and #22Kill. “Our job is to help them adjust to civilian life and find a
new purpose.”

Roy, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Marines, has been instrumental in sending veterans into the Honor Courage Commitment fellowship program which is three part: 1) taking formal education classes with college credit; 2) being mentored and learning to be mentors themselves; and 3) serving community service within the DFW area.

The HCC Fellowship is a 12 week, full-time program. The classes are taught by many SMU professors from the Cox School of Business and the Caruth Center of Entrepreneurship. Political leaders, including retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, serve as mentors for the program. They must also serve with non-profit organizations.

Don Nguyen, Deputy Director and brother of Andy, relayed a story of a Marine who came through the program to start his own personal training business. At the same time he was in the difficult process of dealing with disability claims for his PTSD. By the time he’d graduated the program, he went in a different direction and took a job with a medical sales company. Two years later he came back and donated his first disability check to #22Kill. He was at a point where he was financially sound and didn’t need it.

“This story exemplifies the post traumatic growth that we believe every veteran has the potential for,” said Nguyen. “It would have been easy to sit at home and collect disability checks from the government but he chose to invest in himself.”

The HCC Fellowship is a business and entrepreneurship program that requires a veteran’s full commitment. It also requires the funds to help these veterans stay afloat while in the program. It is through Honor Courage Commitment, that the #22Kill initiative
was born.

#22Kill was created to help raise awareness about veteran suicide and the struggles that veterans face after transitioning from the military to civilian life. Probably the most well-recognized symbol of #22Kill is the Honor Ring. #22Kill Honor Rings are black bands worn on the right index finger, the trigger finger, by veteran advocates or “Battle Buddies”. The black rings symbolize the commitment to all veterans, past and present, and are made of Tungsten or Titanium. The rings may be worn by anyone, it is not just meant for veterans. It is black to “black out” the trigger finger as many suicides happen with guns.

As an ambassador of #22Kill, Mark Roy was given a box of rings to distribute for donations to the group. He said it didn’t take him any time to bring back an empty box and ask for another.

“I was named the first ambassador for #22Kill,” said Roy, proudly. “I’ll bet I’ve ringed a
thousand people.”

#22Kill was at the grand opening of Rock and Brews in the Colony earlier in May to “ring” Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Comedian D.L. Hughley, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Donald Trump are among other celebrities sporting their Honor Rings both on and off camera.

All proceeds from the rings and other #22Kill merchandise go to various veteran suicide prevention organizations as well as Honor Courage Commitment. All merchandise is available online at www.22kill.com.

Other things that have raised awareness include the #22Kill Push-Up Challenge where people challenge others to do 22 push-ups via video and then donate to a veteran’s charity. On June 11 #22Kill will host a 22k Hike in Grand Prairie, TX to benefit #22Kill. All participants must be at least 16 years old and carry an American flag on the hike.

The goal, according to Schick, is to raise enough money to put 22 people through the HCC program every 12 weeks and to also continue to raise money for other veterans organizations to help these veterans realize their potential. Nguyen agrees.

“Even though the VA labels them as disabled, they can’t let that define them,” said Nguyen.


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