Team Red, White and Blue members take part in Ruck March to End Veteran Suicide, New York City, Oct. 11, 2015. Photo by Sam Kille.

Marching to End Veteran Suicide

By Sam Kille

Each day, an estimated 22 military veterans take their own lives. To bring awareness to this, hundreds of veterans and supporters hit the streets of New York City, Oct. 11, for the 2nd annual Ruck March to End Veteran Suicide.

The march was coordinated by VEThack, an initiative conceived and led by
Gene Wu, a Marine combat veteran, whose objective is to give hope and
direction to veterans that have neither, while generating awareness among the public.

“With the wars winding down, people only see what is going on in the news and are not as aware of what is happening with returning veterans,” said Wu. “I hope people will talk to the veterans and get to know them … even if it means raising awareness one person at a time.”

Several organizations took part, including Team Rubicon, Team Red, White and Blue, TheMissionContinues, and Bob Woodruff Foundation. Veteran student groups, from schools like New York University and Hunter College, attended, as did veterans from multiple eras.

The walk began in Central Park and concluded roughly 3-miles later at the New York City Police Department's 20th Precinct, which hosted a barbeque for the walkers.

Most of the participants carried “rucks” or packs on their backs to symbolize the weight carried by those who serve. Several carried flags — American and those of participants’ respective branches of service.

The Ruck March to End Veteran Suicide was a family affair for some.

A wounded veteran, walking on a prosthetic leg, carried a cinder block and chain. At times, he ran past the group, eliciting cheers and applause.

The march passed several open-air restaurants on Amsterdam Avenue, drawing the attention of several diners who asked what the march was about.

Among the speakers before the walk began was Ellen Goosenberg Kent, the filmmaker behind the critically acclaimed Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.

First aired on HBO, the documentary won an Academy Award for its powerful story about the Veterans Crisis Line, which receives more than 22,000 calls each month from veterans (of all conflicts) who are struggling or contemplating suicide due to the psychological wounds of war and the challenges of returning to civilian life.

For many veterans, reaching out to others can be difficult — especially considering that less than 1-percent of the country’s population have served post-9/11.

Events like the ruck march offer an opportunity to unite the veteran community and break down barriers in asking for help.

“Veterans share a unique bond, and coming together allows us to have discussions and realize that a lot of us are suffering in the same way,” said Todd Adrian, who served in the Coast Guard and now volunteers with Team Rubicon. “Veteran to veteran communication is really strong and really amazing. There is a support network here that is truly passionate.”
Todd Adrian carries the flag for Team Rubicon during Ruck March to End Veteran Suicide.

Help is Available

While some may not show any signs of intent to harm themselves before doing so, veterans in crisis may show behaviors that indicate a risk of harming themselves.

According to the Veterans Crisis Line, these include:

Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance
Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time
Frequent and dramatic mood changes
Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
Talk about feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation

Their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act through behaviors such as:

Performing poorly at work or school
Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities
Showing violent behavior
Giving away prized possessions
Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming oneself

In addition to the Veterans Crisis Line, there are a number of resources available to veterans and their family members.

Give An Hour is a nonprofit organization that provides free, confidential mental health services to service members, veterans, and their loved ones.

Among the programs supported by the Bob Woodruff Foundation is the Vet2Vet Talk Line (1–855–838–7481) which provides 24/7 confidential peer support, information and referrals for veterans and their families. Every call is answered by a veteran who is trained to provide peer support along with access to a wide array of services across the nation.