Dozens of supporters turned out Saturday for a first-of-its-kind march through Paintsville to raise awareness for the problem of veteran suicide.
Organizer Danny Shepherd, commander with Auxier DAV Post 18 and head of the Veterans Coalition for Quality Healthcare, said the issue affects everyone.
“We have a problem,” Shepherd said. “That’s the reason why we’re bringing attention to it. A lot of people don’t know 22 veterans a day commit suicide. That’s one every 65 minutes. That’s approximately 8,000 a year.”
Shepherd said veterans returning from combat will often live with post-traumatic stress disorder and subsequent depression, but too few seek out diagnosis or treatment, in part because of the stigma surrounding mental health.
“A lot of veterans are too proud to ask for help. And I’d like to reach a hand out ... if you’re a veteran and you want to join us, we’d be more than happy,” Shepherd said. “Whatever you’re going through, I guarantee you somebody in our organization or the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or somewhere has been through something similar.”
The march Saturday started at Ky. 321 at Starfire Hill and ended at the intersection of Ky. 321 and Ky. 40, the Fallen Heroes Memorial Highway, with marchers carrying flags and signs. Along the way, Shepherd handed out information to motorists and passersby.
Shepherd said the most important thing is reaching out to those in crisis.
“If you’re a veteran and you’ve had thoughts of suicide or depression, reach out, try to talk to a fellow veteran or join an organization and get help,” he said. “If you’re a friend or a family member, and you notice someone that’s having issues, please bring that to someone’s attention, because 22 veterans a day is way too high. One veteran a day is way too high.”
The next most important thing, Shepherd said, is to help ensure as many veterans as possible are registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and able to access the healthcare, including mental healthcare, made available to them.
For more information on these efforts, find the Big Sandy Chapter 18 DAV on Facebook. The Veterans Referral Center in Paintsville also specializes in connecting veterans with resources and benefits available to them, and can be reached at, (606) 789-7587. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is, (800) 273-8255.