This week’s Chamber of Commerce Coffee was held this morning in honor of We Are The 22, an organization based in Little Rock that has operated a mental health crisis hotline for veterans since its founding in 2017 by disabled veteran Mikel Brooks.
Veterans in crisis who call the hotline at 1-855-932-7384 reach a veteran volunteer. If needed, the organization actually sends a team of fellow veterans to that veteran’s location to provide assistance. Everyone who assists veterans in crisis has received training developed in consultation with Dr. Irving Kuo, a past chief of the Central Arkansas Veteran’s Healthcare System Mental Health Department.
On hand at the coffee were We Are The 22’s president, Chris Fields and Amy Perry, a responder and also chaplain in charge of a district that includes all of Southwest Arkansas. Fields said the prime need of the organization now is for volunteers to help fellow veterans. He said while the organization has 90 responders now, it still needs more.
Right now, the organization has two dispatchers, in Hot Springs and Quitman, who relay calls to trained volunteers who may be anywhere in the state. As Fields explained, the veteran who calls is not simply spoken to for a few minutes and referred to a clinic, We Are The 22 sends teams to provide in-person assistance. “When they call, it’s known when they’re in suicidal crisis. And that’s when we’re going to send a team to get out there and talk to them and try to talk them down and help and lead them to the help that they need.” Fields said.
As a measure of the success of the organization, Fields provided an impressive statistic. “In five years, we have had about 500 responses. We’ve lost one veteran,” he said.
A few veterans who have experienced crisis and called the organization have recovered and later joined We Are The 22 as volunteers and undergone the necessary training to assist their fellow veterans. “Through the years we’ve had six or eight former clients join us,” Fields said. “They make some of the best responders we have.”
Perry said she felt drawn to We Are The 22 because of the sense of togetherness its work offers. “What drew me to this organization was to be able to go out and help other veterans. It’s the camaraderie to check on my battle buddy. Let him know, Hey, it’s okay,” she said.
Perry said the most common cause of veterans being in crisis and calling the hotline would be particular dates on the calendar. “Usually an anniversary. It could be a death of a family member sometimes triggers those things. But mainly the anniversary or a death of a battle buddy. But it could be various reasons.”
We Are The 22 is a 24/7 operation, Perry said, because of the immediate needs of veterans who call, and after the intervention is over, that veteran is not forgotten. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s two o’clock in the morning or if it’s two o’clock in the afternoon. It’s time critical, because that veteran’s in crisis. So it’s an immediate dispatch. And our goal is to get to that veteran, ASAP. You know, so the dispatch is on the line with that veteran until we can get there. And when we get out there, we meet with that veteran, and then usually, we have follow up with a veteran even afterwards.”
The coffee’s spread was catered by Jennifer Martinez of Two Chicks and a Fox. It featured croissant-wrapped smoked sausage, cherry tomato and basil skewers, lemon bread, angel food cake, lemon blueberry bread, devilled eggs, peach-pepper jelly with cream cheese and crackers and many other items.