Wicked Local Burlington
From the outside, most would assume a veterans hardest battle would be fought abroad during war, but for many veterans, it is not.
It is estimated on average 22 veterans commit suicide a day, due to the aftereffects of war and isolation. Burlington’s Robert “Bobby” Colliton knows this too well.
The 18-year veteran served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, but in coming home he found himself isolated from society, often turning to alcohol to help him cope. That is when Colliton picked up hockey, a longtime passion of his. After finding the team camaraderie made it easier for him to deal with his post traumatic stress disorder, he thought it could help others like him. He and another veteran, Charlie Bobbish, created a free veterans hockey league based in New England called Skate for the 22.
“I have several friends who have committed or attempted to commit suicide since coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq [and a] few others who have overdosed on drugs,” said Colliton. “I myself had experienced post-traumatic stress and not really knowing what to do, so hockey helped me. And I figured if it helped me maybe it could help a group of other people.”
Colliton believes hockey is the perfect sport to help veterans because of the spirit and teamwork of the sport is similar to that of the military. Many veterans struggle with the lack of structure the military provided them once they discharge, so having an outlet can provide stability and a sense of community, Colliton said.
“It transcends hockey and goes back to that core comradeship that friendship that you had in the military that you can’t find sometimes in life outside of this environment,” said Colliton.
State Rep. Ken Gordon, D-Bedford said he believes Massachusetts is the perfect place for Colliton and Bobbish’s idea to thrive.
“This is why Massachusetts is such a great place and I’m not saying this only happens in Massachusetts, but we really care,” Gordon said.
Skate for the 22 currently has 300 members throughout New England. Being a former hockey player is not a prerequisite to join the organization as they have learn-to-skate programs and volunteer opportunities for those who do not wish to skate.
Now having teams set up throughout New England, Skate for the 22 is hoping to expand nationally, not only to help veterans, but spread awareness that 22 veterans take their lives a day – something Colliton believes most people are not aware of.
“Our goal is to take this as far and as wide as we basically can,” he said.
In the meantime, Skate for the 22 holds events and practices for veterans starting in August and ending in May. They hope by having programs such as their own they will be able to save lives and start friendships within the veteran community.
“I see positive impacts on more than 300 people’s lives. I no doubt that Skate for the 22 has saved people’s lives and changed people,” said Colliton