One of the most publicized statistics around veteran suicide is that 22 veterans in the United States die by suicide each day. This statistic was first published in 2012. Since that time, the number of daily suicides among veterans is now closer to 17, but news articles, nonprofit organizations, and awareness events about suicide among veterans still focus on this initial number: run 22 miles, ruck with all your gear for 22 miles, do 22 push-ups, and more.

I have participated in these awareness events and each time find myself thinking: “Does this do anything concrete to prevent suicide among veterans?” I also think about my fellow veterans who died by suicide. What could I or anyone else have done to prevent it?

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If you or anyone you know is thinking of suicide, help is available 24/7:

From 2001 to my retirement in 2021, every unit I served with experienced at least one loss to suicide. Those numbers have grown after my retirement.

In true military fashion, I ask questions not to blame, but rather to learn and do better next time. The problem with suicide risk is that “next time” is often already too late.

Suicide is not unique to veterans, but we experience it at a much higher rate than the general public. Some may attribute this to the trauma we experience during military service, but I know this is not always the reason. My friends who died by suicide were, more often than not, isolated and struggled alone.

Suicide awareness campaigns and events have done a great job of letting the public know about the disproportionate rate at which veterans take their own lives. But awareness alone isn’t enough.

“Awareness alone isn’t enough.”

Pete Whitney

Between now and Veterans Day (Nov. 11), the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania wants to challenge everyone to spend 22 minutes connecting with veterans. That’s a total of 22 minutes over the next six weeks, which could consist of texts, phone calls, or impromptu visits that can save a life and help reclaim that 22 statistic into one of strength and support.

Too many veterans are struggling and feeling like they can’t ask for help. The idea of a veteran thinking they can face mental health challenges alone should make every veteran cringe. One of the most important lessons we learn in entry-level training is that you are part of a team. To function properly, a team needs to look out for each other. Branches have different names for the person who has your back: shipmate, battle buddy, wingman. You aren’t even allowed to go on a weekend pass alone.

Throughout your military career, the importance of this training around partnership and teamwork should seem elementary. There should never be a time, place, or situation to go it alone.

This year, I challenge everyone — particularly my fellow veterans — to spend at least 22 minutes reaching out to comrades before Veterans Day. You can reconnect with someone you lost touch with or someone who has struggled. Reaching out to say “How are you?” could make the difference between life and death to someone in their darkest or loneliest hour.

» READ MORE: I’m a veteran. Getting help with my mental health changed my life.

If you are doing great and your fellow vet is struggling, you can always turn to a military universal: self-deprecating humor. Maybe remind them of an embarrassing moment when they bailed you out — I have quite a few of those. Your military service was never about you alone; it was about you being part of a team.

Check-in on your teammates and meet up with them at an upcoming veterans event, like the Veterans Parade on Nov. 6 here in Philadelphia. There are also branch-specific events, like the Navy’s birthday on Oct. 13 and the Marine Corps’ birthday on Nov. 10 — all of these are opportunities to check in. Plan a reunion with one, two, or 10 of your fellow veterans, and stop in at your local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or American Legion.

There is no immunization or mask that can protect veterans from isolating and struggling in silence. The only weapons we have in this fight are intentional effort, community, and humility. It can be awkward to break a silence, but that awkwardness pales in comparison to offering condolences to the family members and children of someone who died by suicide.

Pete Whitney (major, retired) is the outreach manager at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. His 30 years of military service include 17 years enlisted, 13 as an officer, seven years in the Army Reserves, and 23 years active duty.