Walking to Raise Awareness for Veterans

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — “Almost everybody has either wrestled with their own anxieties, depressions, suicidal thoughts, or they know somebody that has had those challenges,” Jimmy Novak, “The Walking Man” says.

Novak is walking across America to raise awareness for the 20 veterans who commit suicide every day.

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler reacted to this statistic from Veterans Affairs.

“They’ve served us and when they come back they deserve us to step up and to stand by them and to help them,” Hartzler says.

Novak says what leads to this suicide rate is being afraid to ask for help. He dealt with suicidal thoughts for thirteen years until he seeked mental health services. It changed his life.

“What I found when I actually did seek help was that the things I was worrying about weren’t real-world concerns for me because my supervisors at work, they were very supportive,” Novak says. “I want people to know that it is okay to seek help and that help is available to them.”

The Springfield Vet Center is one of many places willing to help. Director Stephanie Starkey takes me through her methods when dealing with this situation.

“We ask them what’s going on, and work on helping them, identify and recognize those thoughts, and talk through different levels of intervention that they might have at their disposal,” Starkey says.

Veteran outreach program specialist Rob Freeman says there’s two things that can lead to a drop in suicide rates.

“Awareness and education,” Freeman says. “Like with almost anything. When you have a problem you don’t understand what’s going on.”

Starkey says not understanding what someone is going through leads to inappropriate behavior. She says compassion is a must.

“Anger and hostility towards someone who has reached that place is not helpful,” Starkey says. They need compassion, not added hostility.”

Freeman says the Springfield Vet Center provides free mental health counseling for combat veterans and families who lose someone in active duty.

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