COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Around 8,000 military veterans and service members commit suicide every year according to the VA, including 300 on active duty. One local group is working to reduce those alarming numbers.
NBC4 spoke with veterans and their families attending an awards ceremony for Summit for Soldiers on the steps of the statehouse.
Their co-founder Mike Fairman said their number one goal is to eradicate military and veteran suicides.
“I wish I could do anything to bring one of those [lives] back, but we are going to do everything we can to keep one more [from] being added to it,” he said, pointing at a photo collage of those who took their own lives.
Fairman knows intimately what it is like to serve and the pain of returning to a civilian life. In 2012, he tried to commit suicide because of depression and PTSD. Four years later, he climbed Mt. Everest to show other veterans that they can reclaim their life.
“We are here to wear our issues on our sleeves. I literally wear it right here,” he said, pointing to a tattoo on his forearm. “22 a day, 8,000 a year, and there is a minus one here, to remind me I am not going to be that stat again,” Fairman said.
Fairman call those in the military and veteran suicides the “silently fallen.”
“The most likely cause of death for a veteran is by their own hand,” he said.
Howard Berry’s son, Staff Sgt. Joshua Berry, took his own life in 2013 — four years after he witnessed another soldier at Ft. Hood kill 13 fellow soldiers.
“As a result of his suicide, I have met a lot of wonderful men and women who have shared their stories and their losses and this has to stop,” Berry said.
He is working to bring awareness to veteran suicides on his own by placing 660 American flags on a hill in Cincinnati where they will be visible to the community. He is asking other communities to allow him to plant flags there too.
“That represents the number of veterans who die by their own hand every month. If we were losing that many folks in plane crashes every month, I think we would do something,” Berry said.
Members of Summit for Soldiers also hope to equip the next generation of military men and women to move beyond the stigma of mental illness and reach out for help by promoting early detection.
Fairman told the group gathered on the steps that they hope to eventually put themselves out of business.