Auxier DAV Post 18 and its Commander Danny Shepherd salute during the National Anthem, which was performed at the Big Sandy Senior Games on May 17.

Local residents are invited to join a march that is geared to raise awareness about veteran suicide during Memorial Day weekend. 

Auxier DAV Post 18 and its Commander Danny Shepherd decided to coordinate this event through another local non-organization he leads, the Veterans Coalition for Quality Healthcare, to raise awareness about suicide among veterans.

“We have a problem with veterans suicide. We’re trying to bring awareness to that problem,” he said. “We have 22 veterans who commit suicide each and every day. That’s one in every 65 minutes. A lot of people don’t know that.”

He referred to a study the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released in September 2018, which reported that although veterans account for about one percent of the U.S. population, they account for between eight and nine percent of the suicide rate. He said the study was “alarming.”

“This was a study done in 2015 with the VA and it was kind of alarming when I read it, especially when I, when you account for veterans being less than one percent of the population, yet they account for between eight and nine percent of the suicide level. Thee’s something there that we’re not seeing,” he said. 

He said veterans are trained to hold back their emotions. 

“I’ve always known that veterans have been, like, passed under, you know, passed through and stuff, and just overlooked and everything. You know, we’ve got problems just like anybody else, it’s just we’ve been trained to kind of not come in contact with our feelings and just ease the pain and what they call … embrace the suck, is what they used to call it. No matter what the pain you have, you embrace it, you keep on going. And that’s the kind of mentality a lot of veterans have. You know, whatever ails them, whatever hurts them, they just keep on going. … That’s the training that you get in the military. That’s what they teach you. They push you to the limits and they expect you to keep on going. And a lot of us carry that on through our civilian lives.”

He said a lot of veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder and they don’t know it. He hopes the march will raise awareness for veterans and their family and friends, who could recognize the signs of depression.

“Which, the VA has put in a lot of money towards, you know, mental health issues and stuff like that, but, you know, there’s a lot of veterans that’s not even in the VA system,” Shepherd said. “So, they’re getting just, they’re getting skipped over. So this is kind of our way to bring awareness in case somebody knows a veteran that is probably suffering from depression or something like that and they’re not seeing the signs. Maybe they can start looking for the signs and possibly refer them to maybe a suicide hotline or even have them join one of these organizations.”

He explained that a lot of veterans are afraid to ask for help. 

“A lot of veterans are very proud and some of them don’t even want to ask for help,” Shepherd said. “Some of them suffer from things that I couldn’t even explain to you, but they don’t want no help because they don’t want to —  in their mind, it shows weakness, and they just suffer from it, and that lingers on and we have a problem after that. So this way, hopefully, we can bring awareness, get them to join some organizations, get them to join our march, you know, get them to understand some of the problems they might be facing and try to talk to somebody.” 

The march is open to any person, including veterans, their families and any person who want to help raise awareness about veteran suicide. 

Registration for this three-mile march will be held from 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 25, on Starfire Hill in Paintsville. The march will start in that area between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., Shepherd said, and end at the intersection of Ky. 40 and Ky. 321, where the Fallen Heroes Memorial Highway is located. The march will be led by local law enforcement and motorcyclists are also invited to join. Shepherd said there will be a trailer available for people who aren’t able to walk the full three miles. 

The Huntington VA will set up a booth on Starfire Hill, Shepherd said, to offer informational resources on mental health and answer questions for veterans. 

Shepherd said free T-shirts are available for those who march and Little Caesar’s is providing pizza for marchers.

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