Starting in Hancock, Massachusetts, veterans began marching across the state today to bring awareness to a difficult issue: suicide among vets.
Vet Ruck New England is group of veterans who have been impacted by suicide. The group, organized by the Warrior Thunder Foundation, says roughly 22 veterans take their own lives every day across the country.
Retired Army Sergeant Major Darren Bean is the president of the Warrior Thunder Foundation. Bean says making change is a group effort.
“Veteran issues have to be attacked,” Bean says, “have to be attacked by everybody. Community have to be involved, the veterans have to be involved, our active duty transitioning soldiers out need to be involved.”
The team of 11 will march day and night 200 miles, carrying only ruck sacks.
“Personal gear that they need, maybe a head lamp, a flashlight, some change of clothes, some rain gear because I am sure we are going to hit some rain in the next 24 to 48 hours. They’ll have water in there. Some people are even carrying extra weight. Some guys have steel plates in there,” Bean says.
Setting off from Bates Memorial State Park in Hancock, they are expected to finish at Plymouth Rock Sunday.
“Some of us will be wearing a version of body armor called a plate carrier so we will have steel plates in the front and back, which are bullet proof plates,” Bean says. “All of the load that we are carrying represents the burden that the soldiers, that the serve members, carry when they leave the military and try to transition back into this strange community that they weren’t a part of previously.’
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Program, vets are 21 percent more likely to commit suicide than civilians.
Marcher Sonya Moran says that stat doubles for women.
“It’s alarming,” Moran says. “It’s disturbing to think that, you know, our brother- and sisters-in-arms are going through these trials and think that the only way out is to take their own life.”
A major problem is that the majority of vets who die from suicide don’t use VA services like the Veterans Crisis Line, which was expanded to give greater access to immediate mental health crisis intervention and support.
Originally criticized for not doing enough, by May 2016 the hotline was hiring more than 60 new crisis intervention-trained responders and counselors. Bean says the VA gets a bad rap, but…
“Female veterans who have post-traumatic stress don’t get treated at the VA have an approximately 95 percent suicide rate than their civilian counterpart,” Bean says.
More women are using VA mental health care services – a nearly 150 percent increase – in the past decade.
State Senator Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat, spent time in Baghdad in his previous role as conflict negotiator with the United Nations.
“It’s great that we are moving to the point where we can have successive months without casualties, and yet every single day we have them now when folks have come home and that’s just a tragedy,” Hinds says.
Among the needs veterans can have when they return to civilian life are education and skills, housing, health care, and community. Left unguided, Pittsfield Veteran Services Director Jim Clark says, many vets leave the military and feel displaced.
“A lot of these people are left to their own means to figure out what they need,” Clark says.
The marching vets group leader, Bean, encourages people to “roll out the red, white and blue carpet for us,” cheer them on and ask questions as they pass through 50 towns across the state.