LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A nonprofit in Arkansas is working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to reduce the number of suicides by veterans across the state. Military veteran Mikel Brooks founded We Are The 22 in 2017 after hitting a low point in his life.
Brooks was injured in Iraq during his second combat tour in 2007. After his injury, he was sent to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas to recover. He said that is where his trouble with addiction began. Brooks was also diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury and began having seizures. In addition to the TBI, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, among other injuries, and was medically retired from the military in 2009.
Brooks said he felt like his injuries took his uniform from him, which left him feeling like he had no purpose in life. At one point, he went to rehab at the VA to get help getting off the pain medication. In 2013, he said his PTSD and TBI caused him to isolate himself and his drug abuse escalated into using methamphetamine.
“Over the course of the next several years, I managed to destroy every friendship and burn every bridge I had ever made,” Brooks wrote on the We Are The 22 website. “I was so ashamed of myself that nothing you could ever think of me will come close to how badly I viewed myself. I was a Purple Heart and Valor Decorated, washed up, homeless, Veteran junkie. I had become the one thing I said I never would be. I was a statistic.”
On two different occasions, Brooks attempted to take his own life. He said the second time it happened, he was in an abandoned house in a secluded location.
“As I laid on that dirty floor in the dark with my life in ruins around me, waiting to die, I thought about my fire team leader who had taken his life, and my driver from my second tour who was in prison, and how wrong all of it was. And for some reason, I suddenly didn’t want to die, but it was too late,” Brooks recalled. “As I began to fade out I remember begging my God to let me live, and I swore that if someone busted through that door right then and saved me that I would do everything I could to make up for my mistakes, but no one came.”
Brooks woke up 23 hours later on the dirty floor.
“When I looked around at that time for veterans in suicidal crisis, I didn’t feel like I saw a lot of actual resources to help in a crisis.”
His suicide attempt was in February of 2017. By the end of May of 2017, he founded his nonprofit. The organization is different because it not only focuses on suicide prevention but also direct suicide intervention. If you’re a veteran in crisis, you can call 855-932-7384 to reach a response coordinator.
“If we’re notified on our hotline about a suicidal veteran anywhere in the state, we’ll activate a two-man team of trained veterans who will get up any time day or night, 24 hours a day, respond in person to that veteran where they are, talk them down, tie them into resources, get them into the VA, whatever they have to do to get them through the crisis,” Brooks explained.
One of the leading causes of death for veterans is suicide. According to a 2022 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report, the veteran suicide rate in Arkansas was significantly higher than the national rate. Since Brooks began his nonprofit, his veteran response teams have responded to more than 500 Arkansas veterans in crisis and they’ve only lost one.
“When you get home knowing they’re alive and you made a difference, that is a profound feeling,” Brooks said.
Rainwater, Holt and Sexton recognized the difference We Are The 22 has made and continues to make, which is why the law firm named the nonprofit as this month’s Difference Maker and donated $1,000 to its mission.
Brooks said his group will use the money to buy body armor, trauma kits and Narcan for the response team to use when reporting to veterans in crisis. The response team is made up of veterans. If you’d like to get involved, click here.