Editor's note: This article discusses the veteran suicide epidemic. If you or a veteran you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, dial 988 for immediate assistance. You are not alone!
Did you know that military service members are more likely to die by suicide than in battle, and veterans are 50% more likely to die by suicide than their non-veteran peers?
And, it’s very preventable.
One of the veterans leading the fight to help prevent veteran suicide is Chef Andre Rush. You might not know his name, but we can all but guarantee you have seen his biceps on social media. Chef Rush is a former Army Master Sergeant who went viral when a picture showed up online of him cooking a meal at the White House while rocking 24-inch biceps.
People quickly found out that he served under Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump and had a long career in the Army as a cook and trainer. But now Chef Rush has a new mission. He has teamed up with USAA to “Face the Fight” of veteran suicide.
Face the Fight is a first-of-its-kind coalition. Headed by USAA, The Humana Foundation and Reach Resilience, an Endeavors Foundation, their mission is to cut veteran suicide by half over the next six years. The coalition will invest $41 million in philanthropic grants and will focus on supporting nonprofit programs with specific focus areas in preventing suicide.
Chef Rush, who is currently on “Kitchen Commando” on Tubi has found therapy in cooking to aid his Post Traumatic Stress. But he has seen people he has known and loved who have been lost to this battle and he’s ready to share those stories with you.
In Chef Rush’s latest endeavor, he has partnered with Face the Fight to assist in amplifying the coalition’s effort to break the stigma around seeking help and providing resources for those who are struggling. We Are The Mighty was able to sit with Chef Rush and learn more about him and his campaign to help mitigate veteran suicide.
WATM: Chef, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Preventing veteran suicides is important for all of us. Do you think awareness has subsided since the “end” of the war in Afghanistan and minimal troops in Iraq?
Rush: I don't think the awareness in our society has subsided, but I think that the world went into different traumas and distractions. You think about the pandemic, and we had other things that popped up on social media. I mean you kind of get distracted and it feels like no time was the right time, but I think anytime is the perfect time to deal with this and remind everybody to pull together. Because now that all that has passed, we're here right now and we have to deal with it. That’s what drew me to work with USAA on this issue.
WATM: Tell us about the USAA program Face the Fight and what drew you to them.
Rush: To work with USAA is an absolute honor and to see the magnitude of what they're doing on it is amazing. It is going to change so many different lives and so many people from different demographics. Not just military veterans but also their families.
People don't talk about that a lot. They always talk about the military and veterans, but their families get ignored. But with this program, we educate everybody because this affects the whole entire family if you think about everything that's happening with veteran suicide.
WATM: When it comes to veteran suicide, a lot of times the general public doesn’t think about families.
Rush: Exactly, that is usually the first thing I hit on; when I go and speak. The first thing I do is speak to the families. I don’t speak to the veteran first because when you think about us, we have been in battle. We have been trained to be in stressful situations and have done that for years. But think of the wife, husband or kids. They didn’t have that training and they suffer from the trauma second-hand too.
WATM: A lot of veterans want to be the tough guy that pushes through. What advice do you give them?
Rush: That's a great question because I was one of those guys, you know. We get into a situation with these stigmas where you look at a guy like me and look at a guy like you. We are big guys, and you think, ‘There is nothing wrong with them – they are rocks, no they are mountains, no they are planets!’ So, you think nothing can happen to them. We pick up habits and mindsets in the military that we are invincible, indestructible, and unbreakable because we worked out with other alpha males and females.
You came to the point where it's like, ‘OK I'm not going to say anything if he doesn't say anything’ and ‘Well, he didn’t say anything either so I won’t say anything.’
But we just need to come out together and pick up our phones and do a buddy check. Like a real check, not a, ‘You good?’ but a deep dive to get inside of someone’s mindset and find out what’s really going on in that person’s head. To see if there is some type of underlying issue.
And not just a text. Don’t text because someone can just text, ‘I am good’ and you will drop it. No, pick up the phone and call and actually talk to your friend.
WATM: When did you decide to get help?
Rush: I came to the conclusion that, ‘Hey I'm not OK’ and that was OK, but it was not OK not to say anything about it. When I came out and said I wasn’t OK nationally, I had a rush of veterans from all over saying I needed you to say that. I needed you to say that and now I can go out and speak up myself.
And they do and that's the first step of it. But sometimes it's just that we get tripped up and get caught in our own head.
The first time I went to my therapist I had my head down as I was walking in, and I saw another alpha male type passing me with his head down too. By the time I was done, I was walking back to the elevator with my head up and he ran up to me and said, ‘Hey brother, if you are here then I know I need to be here too.’ And we hugged and I never put my head down again. I’ve held it high and it’s still up that high.
WATM: You lost a friend to suicide, tell us about them and how that motivated you to talk about this issue?
Rush: I have lost a few to suicide, but that one in particular … he was one of my soldiers. Something had happened to one of his loved ones while he was in Iraq, and he was on a compassionate reassignment. They took him from Iraq and assigned him to me. They didn’t tell me why, but I told him, ‘I am going to work you and train you and teach you everything you need to know.’ And he was ok with that.
But a month later, he broke down and told me what happened with his family and why he was on compassionate reassignment and that everything wasn’t rosy.
The military put him back on assignment where he had just left and all the trauma had just happened and he couldn’t deal with it. I personally knew he couldn’t but there was nothing I could do. As far as the military was concerned, they wanted him back where they wanted him.
He was a very strong, happy-go-lucky and energetic soldier. He thought he would be OK, but he wasn’t. When things happen to you, you might not be aware of how much it affects you. And we have to learn to go our leadership and say, hey I don’t think he or she is ok. We need to help him or her.
WATM: How do you find that cooking helps with PTSD symptoms?
Rush: That’s a great question. Cooking saved my life. It feels like going to the gym but I can’t go to the gym all time, but I do have to eat. So I do this thing called Cooking and Cope. I do this with a lot of military veterans where I get them a mystery basket that is full of food. No recipes, no rhyme or reason, and just have them cook the food. From that comes a lot of anger then laughter as they come up with recipes. But then it becomes an educational team-building exercise. Then I teach them about what the food does for them. We also get their spouses and children involved too so they can have fun and learn.
So for me, it became a coping tool in a world full of triggers.
WATM: Tell us about your pushup routine. How do you break up 2,222 in a day? You don’t do them all at once do you?
Rush: I do them all at once. I tried to break them up throughout the day, but it was too tedious for me because I am a busy person. So what I did was set aside an hour and a half a day and get them done. I get up at 3:00 in the morning and meditate. Then I do pushups. I do sets of 125 each which breaks down to 17.76 sets which is an important number to me, too.
I am an endurance trainer. I do things to the extreme. It helps me keep my muscle memory, it keeps me young, it keeps me competitive, and keeps my metabolism up.
WATM: You served under many presidents; you cooked for everyone from President Clinton to President Trump, right? That's got to be another level of pressure. How do you deal with that?
Rush: I manage my life by starting my day with meditation. I meditate about anything negative because not every day is going to be a great day. So, I turn those into positives.
Another thing is I compete all over the world and I learn to thrive off pressure. So I tell my guys, ‘You don’t sweat unless I sweat. And I am not going to sweat!’
I don’t look at pressure as leading to failure. And at the White House, you can’t think of pressure. You just have to know that you have to work as one combined unit to make the best of whatever the situation might be.
Face the Fight™ is a new first-of-its-kind coalition comprised of corporations (two Fortune 100, to start), foundations and organizations who are joining together to raise awareness and support for veteran suicide prevention. The aspiration is to cut the veteran suicide rate in half by 2030.
- Founders: Established by USAA, with The Humana Foundation and Reach Resilience, an Endeavors Foundation, joining as founding coalition partners.
- Mission: Break the stigma of seeking help, increase the conversation about the problem and complement the efforts of the VA, DoD and many others to stop veteran suicide.
- Finding Future Solutions: The initial $41 million in philanthropic grants will focus on supporting nonprofit programs with specific focus areas. These include expansion of suicide prevention and training programs, clinical fellowships to strengthen the pipeline of qualified clinicians and distribution of tools to veteran service organizations, the legal community and other entities who work with veterans.