By Blake Stewart and Bailey Basham
Wesley Cooper was scrolling through Facebook when he came across a post detailing a challenge called #22pushups.
Cooper, sophomore religion major and Vanderbilt Reserve Officer Training Corps member, said this post brought to his attention a sad statistic.
“Every day, an average of 22 soldiers [commit suicide], and their deaths go unnoticed. The object of this challenge is to do 22 pushups for 22 days to bring awareness to this statistic and symbolically take on the pain that their family and loved ones are going through,”
According to data from the Department of Veteran Affairs, roughly 20 veterans commit suicide each day—this accounts for about 18 percent of suicides in America. For those returning from life overseas, the transition from combat to the civilian life can be overwhelming.
Many of Cooper’s family members are or were in the military, and Cooper said this is an issue that has always been close to his heart. That moved him to want to do something to help.
“I took this idea through the Benson [ Residence Hall Association] channels, and we took it to Zack Church,” said Cooper.
Church, resident director of Benson Hall, whose father was in the army for 25 years, was on board.
“We wanted to start an educational program to raise awareness for mental health issues among our veterans—something at Trevecca that was focused more on the soldier rather than the military and the war,” said Church.
Church and a group of students began meeting every night to do push-ups in representation of the number of veteran suicides per day. The group met nightly at 10 p.m. in front of the bell tower.
Tristan Hedges, a senior graphic design major, started on Oct. 20 with Cooper and stayed every night.
“I joined the group because I wanted to show my appreciation for all of our vets,” said Hedges. “I have several friends that are combat veterans from Vietnam as well as the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I wanted to do something to show my appreciation for everything they do.”