Suicide awareness, remembrance walk set for Saturday at Ritter Park

September 27, 2018

A display of flags on the Cabell County Courthouse yard along 5th Avenue in Huntington is meant to represent veterans who have died by suicide. A sign lists the Veterans Crisis hotline, which can be reached by dialing 800-273-8255.

HUNTINGTON — An estimated 20 veterans die by suicide each day, according to a 2016 study published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Though still a taboo subject in both military and civilian circles alike, the VA system has steadily brought more visibility to what it considers a major priority toward treating overall mental health for the nation’s veteran population.

Locally, the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center will host its inaugural suicide awareness and remembrance walk from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at Ritter Park in Huntington. A non-competitive walk open to the public, the event is aimed at remembering those lost to suicide and acknowledging all the work left to be done toward ending it.

“There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness and health conditions that we really try to talk about it and share that it’s OK for people to discuss it, check on people and follow up on any concerns they might have about it,” said Julie Brawn, Huntington VA suicide prevention coordinator.

Saturday is the VA’s first suicide remembrance event out in the public, though much is done on the hospital’s campus off Spring Valley Drive in Huntington, Brawn said. The VA treats veterans with evidence-based models, though it can sometimes simply mean

encouraging phone calls to at-risk veterans or working on transportation to treatment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has long been the most visible mental health issue plaguing America’s veterans, along with depression. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide deaths for both the veteran and civilian populations.

Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m. at Shelter No. 1, where additional information about the VA and community mental health resources will be available.

Brian Nimmo, director of the Huntington VA, will welcome participants at 10 a.m., followed by a balloon release at the walk at 10:30 a.m. Balloons will be given to family members and friends who want to write and send a symbolic letter to a lost loved one.

The Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center serves nearly 30,000 veterans in 10 counties in West Virginia, 12 counties in eastern Kentucky and two counties in southern Ohio from its 80-bed facility off Spring Valley Drive.

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